According to a new report, 134 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.
If the execution rate continues on this trajectory, the death toll for 2019 will exceed all previous recorded totals of executions in the country.
The figures were presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, from a report presented by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, at an event hosted by international legal action charity The Death Penalty Project.
According to Baroness Kennedy’s report, titled A Perverse and Ominous Enterprise: The Death Penalty and Illegal Executions in Saudi Arabia, ‘So far this year, the authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia) are known to have carried out at least 134 executions. Of these, 37 were political activists killed en masse on 23 April 2019 following lengthy periods of detention in solitary confinement, subjection to torture, and grossly unfair trials.’
While in 2018, a total of 149 people were reportedly executed, with 46 still on death row by the end of the year.
The Death Penalty Project says at 24 people are ‘at imminent risk of execution’, with prominent political figures, clerics and human rights defenders on the list.
The report also states six of the people executed this year were children at the time of their arrest. Under international law, sentencing someone under the age of 18 to death is illegal.
Presenting the report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Baroness Kennedy said:
I have been very concerned about the way in which Jamal Khashoggi’s murder is being presented to the world as being some sort of rogue activity and not part of systemic human rights abuses inside Saudi Arabia.
The point of this Report is to highlight the extent to which there has been a dramatic escalation of human rights violations by Saudi Arabia. The cruelty of the system is so great… I really hope you will all take this Report to heart, and ensure that something can be done globally.
Jamal Khashoggi was a journalist for The Washington Post and a prominent Saudi dissident. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown, though it is alleged he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, in a premeditated attack carried out by Saudi nationals.
Baroness Kennedy’s report states the rise in numbers of executions should be seen ‘in the context of the extrajudicial execution’ of Khashoggi.
The report also states:
Saudi Arabia’s recent use of the death penalty should be viewed in the context of systemic and egregious human rights violations, including the widespread use of arbitrary arrest and detention (particularly since late 2017) to target political opponents and silence dissent.
In an interview with TIME, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke about reducing the number of people executed in the country.
I believe until today the United States of America and a lot of states, they have capital punishment. We’ve tried to minimize that so we have clear laws that we can change, like if a person kills a person, they have to be executed in our law. But there are few areas that we can change it from execution to life in prison.
His Majesty, the King, doesn’t wake up and just sign whatever he wants to sign. He works by the law, by the book. So there are laws also how the king functions as a king or as a prime minister.
So we are working for two years through the government and also the Saudi parliament to build new laws in that area. And we believe it will take one year, maybe a little bit more, to have it finished.
Members of the UN Human Rights Council, and The Death Penalty Project, however, are calling for more immediate changes to the laws, investigations into the violations of international laws, and the temporary prohibition on all uses of the death penalty.
They are also calling for diplomatic and political pressure from the international community, such as objecting to Saudi Arabia hosting 2020’s G20 summit, and for Saudi Arabia to publish ‘comprehensive, reliable and up to date’ information about the identities of people on death row and the reasons why they have had the death penalty imposed.
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Ed Watkinson is a content strategist and editor at UNILAD. Having worked for several large media agencies for over 10 years, he joined LADbible Group in 2017 and has been overseeing organic content performance since then.