Human rights organizations have widely condemned Saudi Arabia for executing two Bahraini men in late May after a seemingly unfair trial. Jaafar Sultan and Sadeq Thamer were convicted of belonging to a terrorist group, smuggling explosives, and planning attacks in both Saudi Arabia and their home country of Bahrain. Amnesty International reports that after being arrested in 2015, both men were detained incommunicado for 115 days. This means the two were held against their will and barred from contacting family or lawyers for over 3 months. Sultan and Thamer claimed to have been subjected to severe beatings and threats while being interrogated. Additionally, they asserted that their confessions were extracted under extreme duress.
Preceding the executions, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions sent a letter to Saudi officials, imploring them to “halt any possible step towards the execution” of Sultan and Thamer and to “ensure that they are re-tried in conformity with international law and standards.” The UK’s longest-serving Member of Parliament has condemned the executions, calling the set of cases a “grave miscarriage of justice.” Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, described the executions as arbitrary, adding, “the Saudi leadership feels they are immune from any consequences when they execute men they have tortured. The Bahraini regime is complicit as they failed to act to save the lives of their citizens.”
The rising level of awareness surrounding recent Saudi executions and unfair trials has drawn attention to the regime’s potential human rights abuses, but has done little to stop it. External scrutiny, however, could provide a solution to unjust legal processes. International human rights organizations continue to place pressure on the kingdom to accept country visit requests from UN Special Procedures, which have been pending for years. These organizations have also reached out to foreign investors and governments to inform them of Saudi Arabia’s dubious justice system proceedings. Far from reforming the trial system or prosecution process, these efforts simply seek to open the country up to discussion with the international community as well as discourage external involvement with the kingdom.
The case of Sultan and Thamer has sparked particular worry among human rights advocates because they come in a string of more than 1,000 death sentences that have been implemented since King Salman assumed power in 2015. In the year 2022 alone, Saudi Arabia conducted a staggering 196 executions. On one particular day in the country last year, 81 people were put to death on terrorism-related charges. The kingdom, unsurprisingly, has one of the world’s highest death penalty rates, with executions disproportionately gauged towards their Shia minority.
Targeting of the Shia population furthers existing sectarian divisions in the country as well as the Middle East as a whole, given that religious tensions permeate the region. Mistreatment of minorities can even result in increasing radicalization and extremism. Terrorist organizations can then exploit injustice and discrimination for recruitment and potentially harmful agendas. Domestic and international violence may rise as marginalized individuals turn to terrorism as a method of seeking justice or revenge. Overall, unjust trials and executions erode trust between different religious and ethnic communities, which greatly hinders efforts to promote peace and human rights on an intra-regional, as well as an inter-regional, level.