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81 Executed in One Day, A Sad Record in Saudi Arabia’s History

On 12th March, Saudi Arabia executed 81 persons, one of the biggest mass executions in the country’s history. Many of the executed were condemned for crimes that did not qualify for the death penalty under international law. ACHRS condemns the executions and reaffirms its opposition to the use of the death penalty in all cases.

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While the Kingdom attempts to rebrand its image with social and economic reforms, the repression of opponents continues to be practised widely and the death penalty is used at a large scale. On 12th March, 81 persons were executed in the country. In one day only, the Kingdom executed more persons than in the whole previous year (69 detainees were put to death in 2021).

The mass execution was condemned by many NGOs, including the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights who affirmed that in many of the cases, the charges against the accused involved “not a drop of blood” and that “some of the charges were related to participation in human rights demonstrations”. Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, affirmed that “Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 81 men this weekend was a brutal show of its autocratic rule and a justice system that puts the fairness of their trials and sentencing into serious doubt”. Reprieve, an organization campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty, affirmed that “the world should know by now that when Mohammed Bin Salman promises reform, bloodshed is bound to follow.”

41 of the men executed belonged to the Shia minority and only three of them were convicted for murder charges. According to Human Rights Watch, confessions of many of the executed men were forcibly extracted. Most families of the executed said they were not aware their family member was executed nor how and where he was buried. It should not be forgotten that the death penalty is used by Saudi authorities as one of the tools of repression against opponents and religious minorities. Many of the people killed did not qualify for the death penalty under international law, which requires intentional killing. All of the 81 men were condemned with terrorism charges. Before this mass execution, the Kingdom put 11 people to death earlier this year, which already makes 2022 the most terrible year in terms of the use of death sentences with 92 persons executed compared to 69 last year. The stunning silence of the international community that followed the execution could be explained by the current surge of oil prices, and therefore the willingness of Western democracies not to alienate one of the biggest petroleum producers.


Saudi Arabia is with Iran the country in the MENA region that uses death sentences the most. Many of the executions in Saudi Arabia violate international law due to unfair trials and convictions. Furthermore, the death penalty is often used as a political deterrent, and torture is practised to obtain confessions. Executions of people who committed their offences when they were under the age of criminal responsibility were common until 2020 when it became illegal. However, Abdullah al-Howaiti, has been sentenced to death for a second time after being convicted at a retrial in January 2021 of a crime he allegedly committed when he was 14 years old. Human rights activists affirm he was tortured to obtain a false confession.

The mass execution happened just one day after human rights activist and opponent Raif Badawi was liberated after ten years in jail. However, Badawi has been forbidden to leave the Kingdom for the ten next years and therefore to reunite with his family who found shelter in Canada.

The Amman Center for Human Rights Studies is strongly opposed to and condemns the death penalty. ACHRS calls on Saudi Arabia to immediately end the use of the death penalty in all cases. We also call on Saudi authorities to respect their engagement not to execute people who committed crimes when they were children. ACHRS deeply supports people’s right to live and calls on the end of death sentences as judicial measures all over the world.

Image Source: Getty Images

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