International criticism once again poured against Saudi Arabia rulers as Riyadh on Tuesday announced it executed 37 citizens for what it claimed to be acts of “terrorism”. While there are no figures available about the real number of executions in the Arab kingdom due to the absence of international supervision, the latest executions have raised speculations about the real motivation for the move.
Intimidation policy to prevent an uprising
Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that since 1995 has been among the highest-ranking executing states. A majority of those executed in the absolutely-ruled monarchy were sentenced to the death penalty by secret courts. They range from the political dissenters to ordinary convicts whose confessions have been obtained under torture.
According to Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Council, between January 1985 and January 2015 at least 2,082 Saudis were executed. However, as it was above-mentioned, there is no much trust in the announced numbers. A comparison of the execution figures over the past decade reveals an important reality.
The number of executions in 2009 was at least 69, in 2010 at least 27, in 2011 at least 82, in 2012 at least 79, in 2013 at least 79, in 2014 at least 90, in 2015 at least 158, in 2016 at least 154, in 2017 at least 146, and in 2018 at least 149. In 2009, the Saudi regime under pressure of the international rights organizations approved the Arab Charter on Human Rights to limit the death penalty to only serious crimes.
Over the past years, Saudis have tried to tie the executions to acts of terrorism and drugs smuggling, an effort that has so far failed to convince the home and foreign critics. Existence of at least 33 people from Shiite minority among those executed sets off the alarm bells about the rise of a new wave of sectarianism and repression of the dissenters.
The Saudi leaders have always responded to demands of the human rights activists and organizations for the improvement of rights conditions with an iron fist. A sudden jump in the execution figures in the years that followed 2011, the years the Arab uprisings covered the region and risked a spread also to the oil-wealthy kingdom, confirms this reality.
In fact, in the current situation that there is a risk of an outbreak of uprisings in the Arab countries after the second wave of uprisings was opened in Sudan and Algeria, the Saudi authorities have stepped up the crackdown on the political activism of the opposition.
The Saudi rulers apparently have begun to feel the risks of a popular revolution as the internal dissent is growing, particularly in the predominantly-Shiite Eastern Province where the Shiite citizens are subjected to tough economic deprivation and political discrimination despite concentration of the oil reserves in their region.
The Amnesty International report has recently announced that the execution rulings in Saudi Arabia affect also those who very peacefully express their demands for political reform. The rights organization noted that the latest executions carried a message to the opposition, warning them that if they decide to challenge the Al Saud ruling family, there would face the same fate.
A spectrum of reasons now underpins the discontentment with the Saudi regime. Activists inside and outside Saudi Arabia have been calling for genuine political reforms that allow for basic social freedoms in the Arab monarchy. There is also discontentment caused by deep economic gaps that separate the royalty and their loyalists from the ordinary citizens, mainly the migrants who account for 30 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 32 million population. Another layer of opposition is represented by the conservatives opposing the overnight reforms of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
With this high level of dissent, there are worries not also held by the Saudi leaders but also by the allies of Saudi Arabia, mainly the US, who are concerned about losing an important regional ally. So, it appears that bin Salman has carried out the executions and plans further clampdown on the opposition with the green light of Washington and without fear from prosecution of the Western powers.