Saudi Arabia: Executions based on confessions extracted through torture


Zakiah al-Bakheet, a young Saudi widow, has long been begging the Saudi officials to return what’s left of her husband: his belongings including his books and notebooks, his bank documents and, above all else, his corpse.

Zakiah says, “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.” The story of Zakiah is the tragic story of many other Shia women in Saudi Arabia who have lost their husbands to a sinister system of injustice, entrenched deeply in the kingdom, against religious minorities. Zakiah’s husband Abbas al-Hassan was beheaded in 2019. He was one of the 37 prisoners executed en masse. Riyadh has refused to release at least 33 of the bodies to their families so far. All of these 33 men belonged to the Shia community in Saudi Arabia.

Torture, confession, execution

They were all convicted on “terrorism” charges after trials that Amnesty International said relied on confessions extracted through torture. The Saudi government body snatching policy has been a long standing policy for it is for its political opponents, meaning that they reserved this punishment for those who are against the monarchy. And although it’s very important legally that not nothing in the legal papers or the court ruling that these bodies shall not be returned to their families, the Saudi government continues to practice this criminal way of stealing bodies of political detainees and political opponents. This is in contradiction of all international laws and of Muslim tradition.

Ali Al Ahmad, Institute for Gulf Affairs, Director

They kill children, too

Mujtaba al-Sweikat is just another case executed in April 2019, with his body not returned to his family yet. A teenager who took part in pro-democracy demonstrations back 2011-12, Mujtaba was tortured by being hung by his hands, beaten on the soles of his feet and burnt by cigarettes, according to alaraby.

His mother says, “We found out that he had been executed from social media. We are insisting on recovering the body, because receiving your son’s body means to receive your son. This is the least possible right that can be given to a family bereaved by the killing of its son.” You cannot call the Saudi courts a judicial system because they do not operate like a court. It is a kangaroo court that is medieval, It is sectarian it’s apartheid court. That does not allow most of the population of Saudi Arabia to to be part of it, meaning if you are a Shia you cannot be a judge, you cannot be a prosecutor. If you are black, you cannot be a judge or prosecutor, if you are a woman you cannot play a role as well. And if you are not from specific regions or specific background you cannot be so that excludes the majority of the country’s population from taking part in this apartheid court system.

Ali Al Ahmad, Institute for Gulf Affairs, Director

No plan to treat critics humanely

While the kingdom is considering ending the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses as part of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s disputed reform campaign, Riyadh has no plan to treat political activists and critics humanely. “The tragedy of Mujtaba al-Sweikat is repeated so often in Saudi Arabia that it’s become the chorus to a gruesome song. Saudi Arabia arrests a child, tortures them, convicts them, kills them, and buries them in a pauper’s grave, all for the crime of speaking out against the government.”

Ali Adubisi, Director, European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR)

Saudi Arabia has increased its use of the death penalty since King Salman ascended to the throne in 2015. As of April 2020, Under King Salman bin Abdulaziz at least 800 executions were carried out; 184 executions were carried out in 2019, a rise from 149 in 2018; 37 of these were political activists killed en masse following lengthy periods of solitary confinement, torture and grossly unfair trials.


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