Saudi Arabia executed 81 of its criminals on Saturday 12 March 2022, in the largest mass execution in the kingdom’s modern recorded history. The group—which included seven Yemenis and one Syrian—were reportedly convicted on charges of alleged terrorism and “deviant beliefs,” according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
“The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process, which found them guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officers dead,” the SPA said.
The men in question have been reported by the SPA to have been convicted of a multitude of crimes including murder and terrorist charges, “Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations, such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Houthis,” the agency added.
However, human rights groups have heavily criticised and accused the country of abusing its judicial proceedings to enforce restrictive laws on freedom of political or religious expression (with many arrested as minors) and its unabashed large-scale use of the death penalty. Deputy director of the anti-death penalty charity Reprieve—which currently has a petition calling on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia—Soraya Bauwens, said in a statement: “There are prisoners of conscience on Saudi death row, and others arrested as children or charged with non-violence crimes.”
“We fear for every one of them following this brutal display of impunity,” she continued.
Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for Health and Social Care in the UK, recently defended Johnson’s intended trip to the country on the radio station LBC: “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the Saudi government where there’s always a very frank exchange. We don’t agree with our approach on human rights—we’re always right to call that out and to talk to them, frankly, about that.”
“At the same time, it is also possible to have an economic relationship,” he continued. “You know, whether people like it or not, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of crude oil and it’s important, especially at the time of a major global energy crisis, that we have these talks with them.”
Saudi Arabia currently holds one of the highest execution rates in the world sitting at the fifth spot of Amnesty International’s list following China, Iran, Egypt and Iraq respectively—executing 69 people last year.