The Saudi Arabia government recently announced the mass execution of 37 men on 23 April. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), 33 of the men were Shia Muslims, the maligned minority Muslim community within Saudi Arabia. One of the executed Sunni men received the most horrific punishment under Islamic Law 8- beheading and a public exhibition of the beheaded corpse. This is the largest single execution since January 2016 and brings Saudi Arabia’s execution rate to 100 for this year alone, HRW reports.
Global actors have condemned and shamed Saudi Arabia’s actions. The United States government commission on religious freedom asked its government take action against Saudi, which is a close ally to the U.S., Al Jazeera reports. Further, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the mass execution, calling it “shocking” and “abhorrent.” She also stated that Saudi Arabia ignored multiple warnings from rights officials about unfair trials amid allegations of forced confessions through torture. Michael Page, the HRW deputy Middle East director, commented that “Saudi courts are largely devoid of any due process.” Shockingly three of the suspects killed were minors at the time of arrest, causing many to call for prohibition of the death penalty for minors, HRW reports. According to Amnesty International, the youngest was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj who was charged with partaking in violent protests when he was just 16. Following his death sentence, the United Nations pressured Saudi Arabia to reconsider, to no avail.
The use of the death penalty has long been a contentious issue in many regions worldwide. Saudi Arabia’s casual use of the death penalty reflects a lack of motivation in improving the country’s poor human rights record. It is an especially extreme punishment given the apparent lack of due process in the criminal legal system. According to Mr. Page, authorities often characterize those executed as “terrorists and dangerous criminals.” In reality, the men convicted accused authorities of forcing confessions through torture for a range of crimes, including protesting, espionage and terrorism. Some men claimed their confessions were written by the same people who tortured them, and others claimed to have evidence of this torture, CNN writes. What’s worse is the secrecy around the trials, as the U.K. Foreign Office was denied access when they sought trial details, The Guardian reports.
Mr. Page commented that the death penalty should never be the answer, yet Saudi Arabia has shown little interest in addressing human rights concerns. Perhaps the U.S. could have a larger role to play, but President Trump has remained silent on this issue. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely the US will undermine Saudi’s actions, as they risk jeopardizing this important relationship. President Trump has promised to maintain a close relationship with Saudi, which makes notable purchases of U.S. weapons while providing oil exports and sharing hostility towards Iran- a significant rival of the U.S.. However, the U.S. must realize that the actions of its allies reflect on their government as well. They are sending the message – intentionally or not – that they condone such practices by continuing to engage amicably with Saudi Arabia as if 37 men were not killed unjustly.
The British Government censured the massacre, and Labour MPs have demanded that the country be banned from hosting the G20 summit next year. Hopefully such actions are taken so that the Saudi government realizes that these atrocities will not be ignored. As for the U.S., it seems unlikely they will publicly criticize their ally, considering Trump continued talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite global uproar over the death of Jamal Khashoggi late last year.
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