Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said it executed 37 people, mostly Shiites, in connection with “terrorism” crimes, a report said.
“The death penalty was implemented… on a number of culprits for adopting extremist terrorist ideologies and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disrupt security as well as spread chaos and provoke sectarian strife,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Tuesday citing a statement issued by the ministry.
Later in the day, Amnesty International said the execution marks an alarming escalation in Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty.
“Today’s mass execution is a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities’ callous disregard for human life. It is also yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shiite minority,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
The majority of those executed were Shiite men who were convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards and relied on confessions extracted through torture.
Among those executed was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj – a young Shiite man who was arrested at the age of 16 and convicted of offenses related to his involvement in anti-government protests.
According to Amnesty International, the families were not informed about the executions in advance and were shocked to learn of the news.
“The use of the death penalty is always appalling but it is even more shocking when it is applied after unfair trials or against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime, in flagrant violation of international law,” said Maalouf.
“Instead of stepping up executions at an alarming rate in the name of countering terrorism, Saudi Arabia must halt this bloody execution spree immediately and establish an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty completely,” she said.
So far this year, at least 104 people have been executed by Saudi Arabia – at least 44 of them are foreign nationals, the majority of whom were convicted of drug-related crimes. In 2018, Saudi Arabia carried out 149 executions.