Tuesday, August 25, 2015
''Saudi Arabia executes 1 person every 2 days, under a justice system that is deeply flawed''
Between August 2014 and June 2015 at least 175 people were put to death – an average execution rate of one person every two days, Amnestu International says in a new report. A third of all executions since 1985 were imposed for offences that do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty may be applied under international law. A large proportion of death sentences in Saudi Arabia – 28% since 1991- are imposed for drug-related offences.
Nearly half - 48.5% - of people executed in Saudi Arabia since 1985 were foreign nationals. Many of them were denied adequate translation assistance during the trial and were made to sign documents – including confessions – that they did not understand. Most executions in Saudi Arabia are carried out by beheading, or in some cases by firing squad. In certain cases executions are carried out in public and the dead bodies and severed heads are put on display afterwards. Often, families of prisoners on death row are not notified of their execution and only learn of their loved one’s fate after they have been put to death, sometimes through media reports.
Saudi Arabia’s Shari’a law-based justice system lacks a criminal code, leaving definitions of crimes and punishments vague and widely open to interpretation. The system also gives judges power to use their discretion in sentencing, leading to vast discrepancies and in some cases arbitrary rulings. For certain crimes punishable under tai’zir (discretionary punishments) suspicion alone is enough for a judge to invoke the death penalty based on the severity of the crime or character of the offender.
The justice system also lacks the most basic precautions to ensure the right to a fair trial. Often death sentences are imposed after unfair and summary proceedings which are sometimes held in secret. Defendants are regularly denied access to a lawyer, or convicted on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture or other ill-treatment. They are also denied the right to a proper, thorough appeal.
Saudi Arabia has vehemently rejected criticism of its use of the death penalty arguing that death sentences are carried out in line with Islamic Shari’a law and only for the “most serious crimes” and with the strictest fair trial standards and safeguards in place.
“Claims that the death sentence in Saudi Arabia is carried out in the name of justice and in line with international law could not be further from the truth. Instead of defending the country’s appalling record, the Saudi Arabian authorities should urgently establish an official moratorium on executions and implement international fair trial standards in all criminal cases,” said Said Boumedouha, Acting Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.