Death penalty: Saudi Arabia executes 81 people in one day, more than in all of 2021

Saudi Arabia sentenced 81 people to death in a single day on Saturday for crimes related to “terrorism”, a record executed exceeding the total number of executions in the kingdom in 2021. 73 Saudis, seven Yemenis and one Syrian had been “convicted of committing multiple heinous crimes” in the country, the official SPA news agency reported. Among them are men with links to the jihadist organization Islamic State (IS), the al-Qaeda network, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and “other terrorist organizations,” the agency said.

Saudi Arabia, which has one of the highest execution rates in the world, generally uses beheading to carry out death sentences. The 81 people had been sentenced to death for “assaulting places of worship, government buildings and facilities essential to the country’s economy”, and for “crimes of kidnapping, torture, rape and smuggling of ‘weapons’, again according to SPA.

“These crimes have resulted in a large number of deaths among civilians and law enforcement officers,” she added without further details. “The kingdom will continue to take a firm stance (…) against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world,” the agency said.

69 executions in 2021

After 2014, the kingdom was the target of a series of deadly attacks by IS for years. He is also the target of Houthi attacks from neighboring Yemen at war. In Yemen, Riyadh has supported the government against the Houthis since 2015.

By 2021, the kingdom had carried out 69 executions. And since the beginning of 2022 and before Saturday’s executions, 11 people had been executed, according to a count based on official statements. “The world should already know that when Mohammed bin Salman promises reform, there will be bloodshed,” the British NGO Reprieve wrote on Twitter.

“The Crown Prince told reporters last week that he wanted to modernize the criminal justice system just to order the largest mass execution in the country’s history,” the NGO added.

The de facto ruler of the kingdom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has implemented social and economic reforms since 2017, but at the same time he has suppressed all dissent.

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, has had a basic law equated with a constitution since 1992, based on Sharia, the Islamic law. Manslaughter, rape, armed robbery, witchcraft, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality and apostasy are punishable by death.

The day after the release of Raïf Badawi

The executions announced on Saturday come the day after the release of blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for calling for an end to the influence of religion on public life in the kingdom. However, having served his sentence, the former winner of the Reporters Without Borders prize for press freedom, aged 38, will not be allowed to leave Saudi territory for the next ten years.

As part of the reforms, Saudi Arabia announced in 2020 that it was abolishing the death penalty for those convicted of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

But on Saturday, a Saudi man sentenced to death for crimes he committed when he was a minor was hospitalized after going on a hunger strike, according to his family and Reprieve. In 2017, then 14-year-old Abdallah al-Howaiti was arrested and charged with armed robbery and murder of a police officer in the northern province of Tabouk. He was sentenced to death for the second time earlier this month after the Supreme Court overturned a 2019 first verdict and ordered a new trial.