Saudi Arabia sees surge in executions in 2016

Saudi Arabia sees surge in executions in 2016
Amnesty International says beheadings in Saudi Arabia are at the highest in years, and underlined fundamental flaws in the country's justice system.
2 min read
Saudi Arabia looks set to be one of the world's leading executioners in 2016 [Getty]

A surge in executions in Saudi Arabia could see more than 100 people put to death in the first six months of 2016.

Amnesty International said on Friday that the kingdom carried out at least 158 death sentences last year, making it one of the world's most prolific executioners.

In the first five months of the year, at least 94 people have been beheaded by Saudi executioners, "higher than at the same point last year", Amnesty said.

"Saudi Arabia will have put to death more than 100 people in the first six months of this year," the human rights group warned, if it keeps pace with state-sanctioned killings so far carried out in 2016.

"Executions in Saudi Arabia have been surging dramatically for two years now and this appalling trend shows no sign of slowing," said Amnesty's MENA deputy director James Lynch.

A concern for Amnesty is not only the pace of killings, but also that many of the condemned might be innocent.

There are "pervasive flaws" in the kingdom's justice system "which mean that it is entirely routine for people to be sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials", the group said.

Murder and drug trafficking cases account for the majority of Saudi executions.

Many of those killed were put to death inone day at the start of the year.

Forty people were executed for "terrorism" on a single day in January, including Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr whose execution sparked a diplomatic row between Riyadh and Tehran.

His nephew, Ali al-Nimr - who was arrested along with two others while they were still minors - is currently on death row.

Nimr's death sentence based on "confessions he says were extracted through torture provides a glaring example of the arbitrary use of the death penalty after proceedings that blatantly flout international human rights standards", said Amnesty.

"[Saudi should] quash his conviction and order a re-trial immediately in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty," Lynch added.

Saudi judges adhere to a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.

"The Saudi Arabian authorities should end their reliance on this cruel and inhuman form of punishment and establish an official moratorium on executions immediately," said Lynch.

Most people put to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded by sword.