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Saudi Arabia refuses to return bodies of Shia Muslims executed after 'sham trial'

Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslim minority faces persecution [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 April, 2020

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More than 80 members of Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslim community have been executed since 2016. None of their bodies have been handed over to family members.
Saudi authorities have refused to return the bodies of more than 30 Shia Muslims executed last year, The Washington Post reported.

The bodies include those of at least 33 out of 37 people who were killed last April in a mass execution condemned by rights groups.

All 33 men hailed from Saudi Arabia's persecuted Shia Muslim community.

Analysts say Saudi authorities routinely fail to return the bodies of executed Shias.

"Not returning bodies is part of the cycle of persecution of the community," Ali Adubisi, founder of the the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), told The Washington Post.

According to ESOHR, at least 84 Shia Saudi men were executed or killed in raids by security forces between 2016 and 2019. None of their families has received a body.

Saudi authorities fear the gravesites of executed Shia activists and others could become rallying points for dissent, experts say.

Among the 84 Saudi Shias executed since 2016 was Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, a revered cleric who was a leading figure in anti-government protests in the Shia-majority Eastern Province in 2011.

Nimr's death sparked condemnation and fury across the world.

"If they had released Nimr's body, all Shia areas would have gone out [to the street]," Adubisi said.

"And tombs often become places to visit, often inspire the community, inspire resilience, inspire resistance."

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Zakiah al-Bakheet, the wife of one of the men executed last year, has regularly demanded the return of her husband's corpse and belongings to no avail.

"I want to bury him in a place that suits him, not like someone whose identity is unknown, or like someone who's committed an ugly crime," she told The Washington Post.

Bakheet's husband Abbas al-Hassan was executed last year on terrorism charges alongside 36 others. Human rights groups condemned the trial as deeply flawed.

The family of Haidar al-Laif, also executed in April last year, does not expect Saudi authorities to yield to their demands.

We "did not get any response and did not benefit from so-called official bodies during his detention," said Zahraa al-Nimr. "Despite there being no evidence that condemns him, he was executed based on confessions that were extracted from him under torture."

They were "convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards [and] which relied on confessions extracted through torture", Amnesty International said in a statement last year.

Around a dozen were accused of spying for Iran, while others were convicted over their alleged participation in anti-government protests between 2011 and 2012.

Two of the 37 beheaded in April last year were teenagers at the time of their conviction. International law strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty against people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

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