Saudi Arabia: Execution looms for at least 50 on death row, including Shi’a activists

More than 50 people are at increased risk of imminent execution following reports in national media outlets close to the Saudi Arabian authorities that they will soon be put to death in a single day, warns Amnesty International. 

The mothers of five Shi’a Muslim activists who are among the prisoners have implored King Salman for clemency, after learning that preparations potentially associated with impending executions have taken place.

“Saudi Arabia’s macabre spike in executions this year, coupled with the secretive and arbitrary nature of court decisions and executions in the kingdom, leave us no option but to take these latest warning signs very seriously,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

Saudi Arabia’s macabre spike in executions this year, coupled with the secretive and arbitrary nature of court decisions and executions in the kingdom, leave us no option but to take these latest warning signs very seriously.
James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International

“These executions must not go ahead and Saudi Arabia must lift the veil of secrecy around its death penalty cases, as part of a fundamental overhaul of its criminal justice system.”

Among the five activists named in the mothers’ appeal are juvenile offenders Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon. Amnesty International has campaigned for their death sentences to be quashed, because of credible allegations they were tortured and had grossly unfair trials at the Specialized Criminal Court, which is used in counter-terrorism cases. International law prohibits the use of the death penalty against anyone under the age of 18.

Besides Amnesty International campaigning on their behalf, a group of UN experts and the European Parliament have both urged Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of Ali al-Nimr. The UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has publicly stated he does “not expect [Ali] al-Nimr to be executed”.

Ali al-Nimr and his uncle Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’a Muslim cleric, were among six activists arrested following protests calling for political reform, which began in the kingdom’s predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province in 2011.

“Among those who are at imminent risk of execution are these six Shi’a Muslim activists who were clearly convicted in unfair trials. It is clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities are using the guise of counter-terrorism to settle political scores,” said James Lynch.

Among those who are at imminent risk of execution are these six Shi’a Muslim activists who were clearly convicted in unfair trials. It is clear that the Saudi Arabian authorities are using the guise of counter-terrorism to settle political scores.
James Lynch



“Three of those six activists were sentenced for ‘crimes’ committed while they were children and have said that they were tortured to confess. Given what we know about the deep flaws in the Saudi Arabian criminal justice system, we have serious concerns about the fairness of death penalty trials in the country.”

The mothers went public with their fears after learning this week that their sons had been subjected to a “random” medical examination in prison, which they believe is potentially a sign of impending execution. Four of the five have been kept in solitary confinement, in a prison wing housing death row inmates, since they were moved to al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh in early October.

In the letter, they call for their sons’ convictions to be quashed and retrials to be carried out in public proceedings that meet international fair trial standards, with independent observers allowed to attend.

The letter from mothers of the five Shi'a activists to Saudi Arabia's King Salman. © Private

Earlier this week, a number of Saudi Arabian newspapers close to the authorities reported that up to 55 “from al-Qai’da terrorists and al-Awamiyya” will be executed “in the next few days”. Al-Awamiyya is a predominantly Shi’a area of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province where demonstrations took place in 2011.

“Beheading or otherwise executing dozens of people in a single day would mark a dizzying descent to yet another outrageous low for Saudi Arabia, whose authorities have continued to show stone-faced cynicism and even open defiance when authorities and ordinary people around the world question their sordid record on the use of the death penalty,” said James Lynch.

Beheading or otherwise executing dozens of people in a single day would mark a dizzying descent to yet another outrageous low for Saudi Arabia, whose authorities have continued to show stone-faced cynicism and even open defiance when authorities and ordinary people around the world question their sordid record on the use of the death penalty.
James Lynch

Saudi Arabia has long been one of the most prolific executioners in the world, and its record is worsening following a massive recent spike in executions. Amnesty International will release its annual report on death sentences and executions around the world in early 2016.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times and in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.