Rights groups slam Saudi Arabia's mass execution of activists
At least 33 of the 37 Saudis executed by the kingdom in a single day belonged to the country's Shia minority, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia has often been accused of persecution against its Shia citizens, especially in the restive governorate of Qatif in the Eastern Region.
The men were executed on Tuesday after being convicted of terrorism, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
"Thirty-three we know for sure are Shia," HRW researcher Adam Coogle told AFP.
The interior ministry said some of those executed were accused of "inciting sectarian strife", a charge often used in Saudi Arabia against Shia activists.
Rights group Amnesty International also said most of those executed were Shia men from the kingdom.
They were "convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards (and) which relied on confessions extracted through torture", it said in a statement.
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 Shia minority, said Amnesty's Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf.
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, it said.
At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of the year, according to data released by SPA.
The Eastern Province - home to the country's Shia 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 Sunni-dominated government.
Although no official figures exist, Shias make up an estimated 10-15 percent of the ultra-conservative kingdom's population of 32 million.
In February, Amnesty International has called on Saudi Arabia to drop calls to execute peaceful protesters and to cancel the death penalty altogether after the kingdom retracted on its plans to execute Shia activist Israa al-Ghomgham, the first female activist in Saudi Arabia to possibly face the death penalty for her human rights work.
“The news that Saudi Arabia’s authorities have dropped their outrageous call for Israa al-Ghomgham to be executed comes as a huge relief. However, while her life is no longer at risk, she is still facing a ludicrous prison sentence simply for participating in peaceful demonstrations”, said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns.
“The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – its use is horrific in all circumstances – but resorting to execution as a means to punish peaceful protesters in violation of international law is particularly appalling. The authorities must take steps to abolish the death penalty,” Hadid said.
“Instead of treating peaceful protesters as criminals and resorting to extreme measures to intimidate them into silence, Saudi Arabia’s authorities must ensure that Israa al-Ghomgham and all others detained solely for exercising their right to peaceful dissent are released immediately and unconditionally,” Hadid added,
The ultra-conservative kingdom has one of the world's highest rates of execution, with nearly 600 carried out since 2014. More than 200 were over drug cases, but also included other crimes such as rape, incest, terrorism, and "sorcery".
Most people are executed by public beheading or firing squad.
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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