Mujtaba al-Sweikat was 17 years outdated when he attended a protest towards the federal government in Saudi Arabia in the summertime of 2012. That December, on his approach to go to Western Michigan College, the place he was to review English and finance, he was arrested on the airport of japanese metropolis of Dammam, hauled away and convicted after a secret trial on costs that included overseeing a dissident Fb web page and photographing anti-government protests. His sentence: demise by hanging, a verdict upheld by an appellate court docket over the summer season.
The ascension of Saudi Arabia’s bold new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman raised hopes for change inside and outdoors the conservative, oil-rich monarchy. He has introduced drastic social reforms that embrace modernizing the nation’s non secular teachings and granting ladies extra rights. However on the subject of the demise penalty, Saudi Arabia stays caught in its outdated methods.
The variety of executions carried out thus far this yr is on observe to match or probably exceed the numbers of demise penalties in every of the final two years. In response to numbers offered solely to BuzzFeed Information by the UK human rights group Reprieve, 137 folks have been put to demise this yr in Saudi Arabia, 11 of them over the past 9 days. Saudi Arabia executed 158 folks in 2015 and 154 in 2016, the best numbers in 20 years. A record-high 192 folks had been executed in 1995.
“These figures display that beneath Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi authorities has no intention of ending the usage of executions as a instrument to crush dissent,” Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, a privately funded human rights group which focuses on demise penalty instances, mentioned in an e mail.
Together with China, Iran and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is among the many world’s main executioners, usually deploying the demise penalty as a instrument for political repression, but additionally incessantly towards these charged with non-violent offenses.
This yr Bin Salman ascended to the publish of Crown Prince, making him subsequent in line to the Saudi throne after his father, King Salman. MbS, as he’s generally recognized, has impressed some diplomats, traders, and journalists with guarantees of reforming the nation’s conservative non secular guidelines and ridding the financial system of corruption.
However greater than two thirds of Saudi Arabia’s 2017 executions came about within the 5 months for the reason that 32-year-old Saudi royal, who studied regulation at college, was named Crown Prince. Below the strict interpretation of Islamic regulation, or sharia, in follow in Saudi Arabia, the demise penalty is relevant as punishment for crimes starting from homicide to leaving the religion.
“Capital punishment, because it’s in sharia regulation, is fairly tough to vary, and I’ve not heard something from MbS on the contrary,” Ali Shihabi, govt director of the Arabia Basis, a Washington suppose tank near the Saudi management, mentioned by e mail.
Practically three quarters of the 2017 executions had been carried out after US President Donald Trump’s go to to Riyadh in Could, in line with numbers offered by Reprieve, with the speed of executions showing to hurry up after his go to. Shortly after Trump’s go to, 4 folks had been executed for attending political protests, whereas 14 protesters had their demise sentences upheld. (Following the go to, Trump treasury secretary Wilbur Ross cited a scarcity of protests in Saudi throughout Trump’s go to as proof of widespread contentment.)
“The Saudi authorities appear to have been emboldened after Trump’s go to, when he notably failed to lift human rights,” mentioned Foa.
At the very least 54 of these executed had been foreigners charged with non-lethal drug-related offenses, together with at the very least 10 individuals who allegedly smuggled narcotics of their stomachs.
More and more, a number of convicts have been put to demise the identical day, a brand new development which has disturbed rights screens. On November 28, seven folks had been put to demise.
“That is uncommon; previously, executions have tended to occur individually, beneath the auspices of various provinces,” mentioned Foa.
Amongst these on demise row are younger males equivalent to Sweikat charged with attempting to prepare political occasions by way of Fb. Rights teams equivalent to Amnesty Worldwide have accused Saudi Arabia of utilizing the demise penalty as a political weapon towards the nation’s restive Shia minority. Saudi Arabia considers itself a patron of the Sunni department of Islam and continues to advertise a controversial and puritanical college of the religion that Bin Salman has vowed to average.
“Whereas [Bin Salman] talks an excellent recreation about bringing in social reforms and supporting the Kingdom’s younger folks, the fact is that beneath his management, scores of younger folks have been sentenced to demise for exercising their democratic rights,” mentioned Foa. “It’s perverse to explain the Crown Prince as a reformer, when he’s threatening to execute younger folks whose solely crime was attending protests calling for reform.”