Saudi Arabia, the United States’ main ally in the Middle East, has executed 48 people so far this year, half of them over nonviolent drug charges, Human Rights Watch reported this week.
“Many more people convicted of drug crimes remain on death row following convictions by Saudi Arabia’s notoriously unfair criminal justice system,” the advocacy organization said in a release.
Though Human Rights Watch did not specify the method of execution, the Guardian classified the 48 killings as beheadings, and the Saudi government has a reputation for this type of sentence.
“Saudi Arabia has carried out nearly 600 executions since the beginning of 2014, over 200 of them in drug cases. The vast majority of the remainder were for murder, but other offenses included rape, incest, terrorism, and ‘sorcery,’” HRW noted.
As far back as 2004, CBS reported that “[t]he Saudi government beheaded 52 men and one woman last year for crimes including murder, homosexuality, armed robbery and drug trafficking,” adding that the Kingdom argues the practice is acceptable under Islamic law, which governs the country. At the same time, they condemned beheadings by militant groups. CBS noted that while Islam allows for the death penalty “few mainstream Muslim scholars and observers believe beheadings are sanctioned by Sharia, or Islamic law.”
Nevertheless, the Saudi government has continued the practice, beheading 157 people in 2015, the highest since 1995, when 192 were executed. Nonviolent drug offenders were among those killed that year, as well.
“Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that of the first 100 prisoners executed in 2015, 56 had been based on judicial discretion and not for crimes for which Islamic law mandates a specific death penalty punishment,” the Guardian noted at the time.
In its latest update, Human Rights Watch discussed the difficulty of obtaining a fair trial in Saudi Arabia, highlighting that, among other issues, longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system that makes it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases.”
The organization said that in cases they analyzed, “authorities did not always inform suspects of the charges against them or allow them access to evidence, even after trial sessions began.”
The Kingdom also criminalizes protest and received widespread condemnation in 2017 for its efforts to execute 14 Shia minority demonstrators who protested during the Arab Spring. One of those protesters was a Saudi student who was arrested on his way to study abroad in the United States, and an advocacy groups’ appeals to President Trump to intervene on his behalf, the White House offered no indication it intended to help him.
Others who have spoken out against the monarchy have faced floggings and crucifixion. Nevertheless, in 2015, the kingdom’s representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Bandar al-Aiban, insisted the death penalty is applied “only [to] those who commit heinous crimes that threaten security.”
Though the country’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has expressed his intent to reform the country and reduce the number of executions, it’s extremist roots make this a daunting task that will likely take a significant amount of time.
Considering the Saudi kingdom has funded the spread of radical Islam around the world and has also been linked to financial sponsorship of ISIS and the 9/11 terror attacks, it is not surprising they continue to impose the death penalty against even nonviolent offenders and that they are one of the top executioners in the world.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government remains fixated on largely unsubstantiated claims of atrocities by geopolitical rivals in the region, failing to display a modicum of principle in its ultimately tepid opposition to oppression and radicalism as it continues to facilitate the sale of billions of dollars worth of weaponry to extremist regimes.