Saudi Arabia kills 81 in its biggest mass execution
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Saturday executed 81 people convicted of crimes ranging from murder to membership in militant groups, the largest known mass execution in the kingdom in its modern history.
The number of executions has even exceeded the toll of a mass execution in January 1980 for the 63 militants convicted of seizing the Grand Mosque of Mecca in 1979, the worst militant attack ever carried out against the kingdom and the Islam’s holiest site.
Why the kingdom chose Saturday for the executions was unclear, although they came as the world’s attention remained focused on Russia’s war against Ukraine – and the United States hope to drive down record gasoline prices as energy prices rise around the world. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also reportedly planning to visit Saudi Arabia next week to discuss oil prices.
The number of ongoing death penalty cases in Saudi Arabia has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, although the kingdom has continued to behead convicts under King Salman and his authoritarian son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency announced Saturday’s executions, saying they included those “convicted of various crimes, including the murder of innocent men, women and children”.
The kingdom also said some of those executed were members of al-Qaida, the Islamic State group, as well as supporters of Yemen’s Houthi rebels. A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015 in neighboring Yemen in a bid to restore the internationally recognized government to power.
Among those executed were 73 Saudis, seven Yemenis and one Syrian. The report does not specify where the executions took place.
“The defendants were given the right to counsel and were guaranteed all of their rights under Saudi law during the court process, which found them guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes that resulted in a large number of deaths. among civilians and law enforcement,” the Saudi said. The news agency said.
“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten stability around the world,” the report added. He did not specify how the prisoners were executed, although those on death row are usually beheaded in Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi state television ad described those executed as having “followed in Satan’s footsteps” in the commission of their crimes.
The executions drew immediate international criticism.
“The world should know by now that when Mohammed bin Salman promises reform, bloodshed will follow,” said Soraya Bauwens, deputy director of Reprieve, a London-based advocacy group.
Ali Adubusi, the director of the Saudi European Organization for Human Rights, claimed that some of those executed had been tortured and had undergone trials “conducted in secret”.
“These executions are the opposite of justice,” he said.
The kingdom’s last mass execution took place in January 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people, including a prominent Shia opposition cleric who had staged protests in the kingdom.
In 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, mostly from the Shia minority, in a mass execution across the country for alleged terrorism-related crimes. He also publicly nailed the severed body and head of a convicted extremist to a stake as a warning to others. Such post-execution crucifixions, though rare, do occur in the kingdom.
Activists including Ali al-Ahmed of the American Institute of Gulf Affairs and the group Democracy for the Arab World Now said they believe more than three dozen people executed on Saturday were also Shiites. The Saudi statement, however, did not identify the confessions of those killed.
Shiites, who mainly live in the oil-rich east of the kingdom, have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens. Executions of Shiites in the past have sparked regional unrest. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, remains engaged in diplomatic talks with regional Shia rival Iran to try to ease tensions that have lasted for years.
Sporadic protests erupted on Saturday evening in the island kingdom of Bahrain – which has a predominantly Shia population but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, a Saudi ally – over the mass execution.
The seizure of the Grand Mosque in 1979 remains a pivotal moment in the history of the oil-rich kingdom.
A group of ultra-conservative Saudi Sunni militants have taken over the Grand Mosque, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba to which Muslims pray five times a day, demanding the abdication of the Al Saud royal family. A two-week siege that followed ended with an official death toll of 229. The rulers of the kingdom quickly embraced Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative Islamic doctrine.
Since taking power, Crown Prince Mohammed, under the leadership of his father, has increasingly liberalized life in the kingdom, opening cinemas, allowing women to drive and tearing down the once feared religious police from the country.
However, US intelligence agencies believe the crown prince also ordered the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while overseeing airstrikes in Yemen that killed hundreds of civilians.
In excerpts from an interview with The Atlantic magazine, the Crown Prince spoke about the death penalty, saying a “high percentage” of executions had been stopped thanks to the payment of so-called “blood money” to the grieving families.
“Well about the death penalty, we got rid of all that except one category, and that’s written in the Quran, and we can’t do anything about it, even if we wanted to do something , because it is a clear teaching in the Quran,” the prince said, according to a transcript later released by Saudi Arabian satellite news channel Al-Arabiya.
“If someone has killed someone, another person, the family of that person has the right, after going to court, to apply the death penalty, unless they forgive him. Or if someone threatens the life of many people, that means he should be punished with the death penalty.
He added: “It doesn’t matter if I like him or not, I don’t have the power to change him.”
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.
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