In a mass execution around the country, Saudi Arabia publicly beheaded 37 Saudi citizens on alleged terrorism charges, and as a warning to others, pinned the severed body and head of one of them to a pole on April 23.
Most of those beheaded were minority Shiites and the one pinned to the pole was a Sunni extremist.
“This is the largest mass execution of Shiites in the kingdom’s history,” said Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident who runs the Gulf Institute in Washington.
Based on the names announced by the Interior Ministry, Al-Ahmed identified 34 of those executed to be Shiites.
According to a statement by the Interior Ministry published by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the men were accused of adopting extremist ideology and terrorist activities.
“The death penalty was implemented on a number of criminals for adopting extremist terrorist ideologies and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disrupt security as well as spreading chaos and provoking sectarian strike,” the SPA said in a tweet.
تنفيذ حكم القتل تعزيرا وإقامة حد الحرابة في عدد من الجناة لتبنيهم الفكر الإرهابي المتطرف وتشكيل خلايا إرهابية للإفساد والإخلال بالأمن وإشاعة الفوضى وإثارة الفتنة الطائفية والإضرار بالسلم والأمن الاجتماعي وجميعهم من الجنسية السعودية.https://t.co/fpadnfMTA4#واس pic.twitter.com/Qey1Gy81Vn
— واس (@spagov) April 23, 2019
The SPA said the executions were ratified by “the pertinent court of appeals as well as the supreme court and a royal order.”
According to Bloomberg, many of the executed men were on a list of most-wanted people sought in connection with protests and violence that happened during the 2011 Arab Spring. At least one of them had been arrested for an attack on German diplomats in 2014, and others had been held for attacking security forces.
The Shia-Sunni conflict is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s proxy war with its regional rival, Iran, in different parts of the Middle East.
Response by Amnesty International and UN
The Amnesty International said in a statement that one of those executed was a young man convicted of a crime that took place when he was under 18.
“Today’s mass execution is a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities callous disregard for human life,” Lynn Maalouf Middle East research director at Amnesty International said in a statement.
Amnesty said the trials conducted violated international fair trial standards as they relied on confessions extracted through torture.
— Linda Hemby (@LindaHemby) April 23, 2019
“They include 11 men who were convicted of spying for Iran and sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial. At least 14 others executed were convicted of violent offenses related to their participation in anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a [Shiite] majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012,” said Amnesty in the statement.
14 other #Saudi men executed today were sentenced to death in an unfair trial for participation in anti-government protests in the Shi’a majority Eastern Province since 2011. They told the court they were tortured to have ‘confessions’ extracted from them https://t.co/I7wuBEfWzF
— Dana Ahmed (@danaahm_) April 23, 2019
The families of those executed were not informed in advance.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the beheadings on Wednesday, in a statement.
— Nikos Sitaropoulos (@nsitaropoulos) April 1, 2019
“I strongly condemn these shocking mass executions across six cities in Saudi Arabia yesterday in spite of grave concerns raised about these cases by numerous U.N. special rapporteurs, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of child and others,” said Bachelet.
She said that international human rights laws and standards strictly restrict the use of the death penalty.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.