Amnesty warns of ‘dramatic surge’ in Saudi executions
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Amnesty warns of ‘dramatic surge’ in Saudi executions

Watchdog says kingdom carried out at least 158 death sentences last year, making it third most prolific executioner after Iran, Pakistan

Illustrative: A Saudi executioner displays his sword. (YouTube/MEMRITVVideos)
Illustrative: A Saudi executioner displays his sword. (YouTube/MEMRITVVideos)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Amnesty International warned Friday that a surge in executions carried out by Saudi Arabian authorities could see more than 100 people put to death in the first six months of 2016.

The London-based watchdog says that the kingdom carried out at least 158 death sentences last year, making it the third most prolific executioner after Iran and Pakistan.

This year, at least 94 people have been executed so far, “higher than at the same point last year,” Amnesty said.

If executions continue at the same pace, “Saudi Arabia will have put to death more than 100 people in the first six months of this year,” the human rights group warned.

“Executions in Saudi Arabia have been surging dramatically for two years now and this appalling trend shows no sign of slowing,” said Amnesty’s MENA deputy director James Lynch.

Lynch spoke of “pervasive flaws” in the kingdom’s justice system “which mean that it is entirely routine for people to be sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials.”

Murder and drug trafficking cases account for the majority of Saudi executions, although 47 people were put to death for “terrorism” on a single day in January.

File: Iranian demonstrators hold anti-Saudi placards in a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi)
File: Iranian demonstrators hold anti-Saudi placards in a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Among those was Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr whose execution sparked a diplomatic row between Riyadh and Tehran.

His nephew, Ali al-Nimr, who was arrested with two others while they were still minors, is currently on death row.

Nimr’s death sentence based on “confessions he says were extracted through torture provides a glaring example of the arbitrary use of the death penalty after proceedings that blatantly flout international human rights standards,” said Amnesty.

Lynch urged Saudi authorities to “quash his conviction and order a re-trial immediately in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty.”

Saudi Arabia has a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities should end their reliance on this cruel and inhuman form of punishment and establish an official moratorium on executions immediately,” said Lynch.

Most people put to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword.

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