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Thu 9 Apr 2015 01:34 PM

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Saudi Arabia executes 54 people in first 3 months of 2015

Kingdom ramps up executions and is on track to record far more than recent years, says Amnesty International

Saudi Arabia executes 54 people in first 3 months of 2015
Jail, Handcuff, Law

At least 54 people were executed in Saudi Arabia during the first three months of the year in a dramatic increase, according to Amnesty International.

The international human rights organisation said the kingdom was well on track for a record year, following 90 executions last year.

Gruesome footage of a public execution released by an amateur videographer earlier this year showed a woman on the floor begging for her life beneath her executioner. A man dressed in white raised a sword above his head, according to Amnesty International researcher on Saudi Arabia Sevag Kechichian.

“The images shocked the world and provided a sobering reminder of the kingdom’s unwavering commitment to the death penalty,” he wrote in a comment piece published on the organisation’s website.

Saudi Arabia executed the third highest number of people of any country last year, according to Amnesty International’s annual report. Most are beheaded and done in public.

“This gruesome execution method has driven the media to draw parallels with beheadings carried out by the so-called “Islamic State” armed group in Syria and Iraq,” Kechichian said.

The executions include two sets of brothers and a juvenile who each claimed their so-called confessions had been obtained under torture.

In March, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission defended the kingdom’s use of the death penalty, claiming it was justice for victims.

Bandar Al Aiban told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva the kingdom would continue to apply the principles of Shariah law, the rules that govern Islam, in all areas of life, particularly in punishment for grave crimes, the official state news agency SPA said.

“As we renew our emphasis on respect of the right to life as one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Islamic law, we should not forget the calls to cancel or suspend the implementation of capital punishment rule for the victims' rights which are violated by perpetrators,” Al Aiban was quoted as saying.

“The implementation of capital punishment rule in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are taken in the most serious crimes threatening the security and safety of the community and the rights of individuals.”

However, Amnesty International argues Shariah experts disagree that many of the death sentences are legal.

Kechichian said a statement dated February 17, 2015, by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court confirmed that sentences, including death sentences where the punishment is left to the judge’s discretion, could be handed down even if it cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the suspect committed a crime.

“Suspicion, it seems, is enough for a judge to order putting an end to someone’s life,” he said.

He also argued some of the crimes for which the death penalty had been given were not considered to be among the most serious, for which international allows the death penalty.

Last year, half of the executions in the kingdom were for non-lethal offences, Kechichian said. Majority of those were related to drugs, including possession, while one person was executed for ‘sorcery’ and ‘witchcraft’, which his not considered a crime in international law.

Shariah law also does not include drug related offences among crimes punishable by the death penalty, Kechichian argued.

“Saudi Arabia claims that it maintains the highest judicial standards in the use of the death penalty, and depicts those calling for it to be abolished or restricted, including Amnesty International and other organisations, as posing a threat to Islam because they seek to persuade Saudi Arabians to renounce Shariah law,” Kechichian said.

“Such rhetoric by the authorities is not only bluntly false, but also fuels dangerous misconceptions and antagonism among Saudi Arabians towards human rights, international law, and the West.

“Saudi Arabia’s authorities must stop deceiving people about the death penalty. They should acknowledge once and for all that the death penalty is a cruel and inhuman punishment that violates the right to life, and should take steps towards abolishing it entirely.”