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Saudi Arabia breaks its own record for executions, beheading over 180 people in 2019

In 2019, Saudi Arabia executed more people than it ever has before, capped by the April 23 mass beheading of more than three dozen people on “terrorism” charges, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Only China and Iran executed more people last year, with just 20 countries responsible for all recorded instances of capital punishment, according to the report.

In total, Saudi authorities executed 184 people, up 23% from the year before, with a plurality of the killings in punishment for drug-related offenses. The majority of those who were killed — all via beheading — were foreign nationals.

Death sentences can be handed out for a wide variety of nonviolent offenses in Saudi Arabia, “including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery,” the US State Department noted in a 2019 assessment of the country’s human rights record. Those cases are rare, however; more frequently, especially last year, are executions of politically active religious minorities.

Of the 88 Saudi citizens who were put to death last year, a disproportionate number were members of the country’s repressed Shia Muslim minority. Indeed, of the 37 people executed on April 23, all but five were Shiites.

Those killed, including a young man, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, who was under the age of 18 when he took part in protests against the government — led by a royal family that has promulgated an ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam — were denied access to attorneys and convicted based on confessions that many believe were the product of torture, according to human rights organizations.

Hussein al-Mossalem, another man executed that day, suffered a broken nose, broken collar bone, and a leg fracture while in solitary confinement, according to Amnesty.

“The death penalty is an abhorrent and inhuman punishment,” Clare Agar, Amnesty’s senior director for research, advocacy, and policy, said in a statement.

While noting that executions, globally, fell by about 5% from the year before, “Saudi Arabia’s growing use of the death penalty, including as a weapon against political dissidents, is an alarming development,” she said.

Despite the Saudi monarchy’s increasing reliance on executions, it is nowhere near the global leader when it comes to the death penalty, a form of punishment largely meted out by undemocratic regimes. That title goes to China, which executed “thousands” in 2019, according to the human rights group; the exact number is unknown as the country refuses to divulge such information.

Iran was a distant second, executing at least 251 people in 2019, its second straight year of declining numbers following major reforms to its drug laws. Iraq put to death at least 100 people, with Egypt following with at least 32 executions.

The United States executed 22 people, with Texas accounting for more than 40% of the total.

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Death Penalty Beheading Saudi Arabia Amnesty International

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