© Amnesty International

Five reasons why Saudi Arabia must urgently abolish the death penalty

Plans to execute, next week, seven men convicted after being allegedly tortured into “confessing” to an armed robbery and then crucify the body of one of them confirm Saudi Arabia’s fundamentally flawed approach to law and order, Amnesty International said today.

The men, including two who may have been juveniles at the time of the alleged crime, were convicted in 2009 after a short trial that used “confessions” allegedly extracted under torture as evidence against them. The men were not allowed legal representation and were denied the right to appeal the sentence.

“Saudi Arabia’s legal system is fundamentally flawed. The fact that someone can be executed after, it seems, being tortured to ‘confess’ to a crime and as a result of a trial where no defence was allowed is, simply, illegal,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The execution of these men must be immediately stopped. They should be granted a new trial and the torture allegations must be investigated.”

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of execution in the world.

At least 17 individuals have been executed in 2013 – eight for drug-related offences and eight foreign nationals, including Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker, who was only 17 at the time of her alleged crime.

At least 82 people were executed in 2011, as were a similar number in 2012 – more than triple the figure of at least 27 in 2010.

Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft.

Those who are executed are usually beheaded, often in public. The dead body is in some cases “crucified”, whereby the upper body, along with the separated head if beheaded, are tied to a pole in a public square to act as a deterrent.

1. The death penalty risks killing innocent peopleCourt proceedings in Saudi Arabia fall far short of international standards for fair trial, which means that innocent people can be sentenced to death. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under duress or deception.

2. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent Nowhere has it been shown that the death penalty is a better deterrent to crime than imprisonment. In fact, in countries where the death penalty has been abolished, crime rates have often fallen. The average murder rate in the USA for states that use the death penalty is higher than for those that do not. In 2006, 30 years after Canada abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes, the murder rate had fallen by over a third.

3. It does not contribute to a safer and more secure society There is no scientific proof to show it offers a solution to the problem of crime. Instead, crime may be reduced through having better trained and equipped police officers and an effective system for the administration of justice, among other things.

4. It generates more anguish and perpetuates the cycle of violenceVictims of the original crime, and those executed for them, are not the only ones who suffer. The families of death row inmates share the psychological torment of knowing that an execution may happen at any time and are caused great pain when the execution does eventually take place. Executions brutalize those involved in the process. Combating crime should not create more misery through more violence. Society should affirm life, not end it.

5. The death penalty is a violation of human rights, whether or not the public supports itHistory is littered with human rights violations that were supported by the majority but in modern times are looked upon with horror. Slavery, racial segregation and lynching all had widespread support in the societies where they occurred but constituted gross violations of the victims’ human rights.

The death penalty is a violation of a fundamental human right – the right to life – and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, whatever form it takes.