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Fri 5 Jun 2015 08:58 AM

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Rights group urges Saudi rethink amid executions spike

Human Rights Watch calls on authorities to stop executions; claims 90 have been carried out so far in 2015, more than whole of last year

Rights group urges Saudi rethink amid executions spike

Saudi authorities have been urged to stop executions as the number of death penalties carried out this year already surpasses last year's total.

Human Rights Watch has branded the spike in executions as "appalling" after claiming the Gulf kingdom has carried out 90 executions since the beginning of 2015, more than the 88 for all of 2014.

Forty-one of the 90 people executed since the start of 2015 were sentenced for non-violent drug offences, the rights group said in a statement.

“Any execution is appalling, but executions for crimes such as drug smuggling that result in no loss of life are particularly egregious,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“There is no excuse for Saudi Arabia’s continued use of the death penalty for these types of crimes.”

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Arabia’s state news agency, said in news releases that only 14 of the 90 prisoners executed so far in 2015 were convicted of Hadd (“limit”) crimes for which Islamic law mandates a specific punishment, including the death penalty, while 27 were sentenced under the Islamic law concept of Qisas, or eye-for-an-eye retribution for murder.

Judges based their sentences for the other 49, including the 41 for drug-related crimes, on judicial discretion.

On March 4, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, an official body, defended the authorities’ use of capital punishment, stating that Saudi Arabia “takes pride in Islamic law constitutionally and methodologically … no one can trump the work of God.”

Of the 90, 51 of those executed were Saudi citizens. Pakistanis – 13 of whom were convicted on heroin smuggling charges – formed the largest group among the 39 foreigners executed, Human Rights Watch said.

It added that international standards require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances.

The Death Penalty Worldwide Database, which collects information on executions across the globe, shows that Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world.

Since the start of 2015, Saudi Arabia’s neighbour, Iran, has reportedly executed more than 340 prisoners, with as many as 98 hanged between April 9 and 28 alone, according to UN rights experts.

For the past several years Iran is believed to have had the highest rate of executions in the world after China.

“The current surge in executions in Saudi Arabia is yet another stain on the kingdom’s human rights record,” Whitson said. “Saudi Arabia needs to call a halt to this cruel punishment.”