Saudi Faces Rising Criticism After Mass Execution

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia faced worldwide criticism Wednesday for its mass execution of a group made up mostly of people from the kingdom’s Shiite Muslim minority, some of whom the UN said were minors when charged.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned Riyadh’s Tuesday execution of 37 Saudi nationals, saying “it was particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing”.

The EU echoed her censure, calling the execution of people charged as minors a “serious violation”.

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Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the fact that the majority of those executed were Shiites had “the potential to fuel sectarian tensions”.

They were put to death after being convicted of terrorism, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, in the largest mass execution in the country for more than three years.

At least 33 of those executed belonged to Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, according to Human Rights Watch.

The rights group said the convictions were based on “unfair” mass trials and on confessions allegedly extracted through torture.

The Sunni-dominated kingdom’s interior ministry said some of those executed were accused of “inciting sectarian strife”, a charge often used in Saudi Arabia against Shiite activists.

One person was crucified after being killed, SPA reported, a measure reserved for particularly serious crimes in the ultra-conservative oil-rich kingdom, where executions are usually carried out by beheading.

 ‘Tool to crush dissent’ 

“Saudi authorities will inevitably characterise those executed as terrorists… but the reality is that Saudi courts are largely devoid of any due process, and many of those executed were condemned based solely on confessions they credibly say were coerced,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page.

“Executing prisoners en masse shows that the current Saudi leadership has little interest in improving the country’s dismal human rights record.”

Rights group Amnesty International said most of those executed were “convicted after sham trials” based on “confessions extracted through torture”.

The executions were “yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent” from within the Shiite minority, it added in a statement.

The rights watchdog said 11 of those executed were convicted of spying for Iran, while at least 14 others were sentenced in connection with anti-government protests in the Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012.

Among those executed was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, who was only 16 at the time of his arrest, Amnesty said.

‘Not a whisper’ from the US 

The mass execution is the largest since January 2016, when Saudi Arabia executed a group of 47 people convicted of “terrorism”, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

The cleric’s execution prompted a furious reaction from Tehran.

Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked in violent demonstrations, prompting Riyadh to sever relations.

Iran’s top diplomat Wednesday slammed the silence of US President Donald Trump’s administration on the executions.

“After a wink at the dismembering of a journalist, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day — even crucifying one two days after Easter,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

He was referring to the murder of prominent Saudi journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah, a key ally of Tehran, accused the United States of being “a key partner” in Saudi Arabia’s “heinous crimes”.

“Hezbollah strongly condemns the heinous crime committed by the criminal Saudi regime against dozens of innocent civilians, whose only fault was to demand freedom and freedom of expression,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of the year, according to data released by SPA.

Last year, Saudi Arabia carried out 149 death sentences, making it one of the world’s top three executioners along with China and Iran, according to Amnesty.

The Eastern Province — home to the bulk of the country’s Shiite minority — has seen bouts of unrest since 2011 when protesters emboldened by the Arab Spring took to the streets demanding an end to alleged discrimination by the government.

Although no official figures exist, Shiites make up an estimated 10-15 per cent of the ultra-conservative kingdom’s population of 32 million.


19 Sentenced To Death In Bangladesh Over Attack On PM

Bangladesh on the map


A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people to death over a 2004 grenade attack on the current prime minister, although a top opposition leader escaped with a life sentence.

The attack in Dhaka on a rally by Sheikh Hasina, at the time in the opposition and now prime minister left her injured and killed 20 people.

Tarique Rahman, son of then-premier and Hasina’s ally-turned-archrival Khaleda Zia, was among 49 people on trial, with Rahman charged with criminal conspiracy and multiple counts of murder.

Rahman, 50, was tried in absentia after he fled the country for London in 2008.

He now leads the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from exile after Zia was jailed in February for five years for corruption.

“We thank God for the verdict,” prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain told reporters amid tight security.

“We hoped that Tarique Rahman would get the death sentence,” he said, adding the court observed that Rahman played a key role in the attack.

Hossain said two former ministers including a powerful ex-home minister and two former heads of the country’s powerful intelligence agencies were among others handed the death sentence.

A total of 15 Islamist extremists from the banned Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI), whose leader was executed in April last year, were also sentenced to death for planning and carrying out the attack.

Prosecutors said former BNP minister Abdus Salam Pintu colluded with HuJI and handed over grenades for the attack.

Hasina was addressing the rally when the grenades exploded and suffered severe injuries in one ear. Among the dead was the wife of a former president.

Four years later, Hasina stormed back to power after leading a secular coalition to a landslide victory in elections in December 2008.

Three Islamist extremists were also charged over the attack and later executed in a separate trial.

Death row 

Death sentences are common in Bangladesh, with hundreds of people on death row. All executions are by hanging, a legacy of the British colonial era.

At least nine top Islamist extremists, five leaders of the country’s largest Islamist party and a senior opposition leader have been hanged since 2007.

Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan said he was satisfied with the verdict, saying they got justice.

Rahman’s lawyer Sanaullah Mia said the charges against his client were politically motivated.

He questioned the timing of the verdict, saying it was aimed at keeping Rahman out of elections expected for December.

“There was no evidence or witness against him. No witness could say that conspiracy was hatched at Hawa Bhaban,” he told AFP, referring to a former BNP office used by Rahman.

BNP spokesman Fakhrul Islam Alamgir rejected the verdict, saying it was “a naked display of political vengeance”.

Police spokesman Sohel Rana said security was tightened in courts and across the South Asian nation to avert any violence following the verdict.

“Police are fully prepared to prevent any violence centering on the verdict,” he told AFP earlier.

Zia was transferred to hospital last weekend from the 19th-century Dhaka Central Jail, where she is the only prisoner.

She has been on trial in a special room of the prison on additional graft charges that her supporters say are politically motivated.

The 73-year-old was already suffering from health issues including arthritis, diabetes and knee replacements when she was sentenced in February.

Her party boycotted the 2014 election in which Hasina returned to power but is expected to contest the election due in December.