Saudi death penalty use has almost doubled under rule of Mohammed bin Salman: Report

An average of 129 executions have been carried out annually since 2015.

January 31, 2023, 8:27 AM

LONDON -- The use of the death penalty under the rule of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman, has almost doubled annually since they rose to power, according to a new report seen by ABC News.

The report, published on Tuesday by the non-profit European Saudi organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and the anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, titled “Bloodshed and Lies: Mohammed bin Salman’s Kingdom of Executions,” says that the average number of executions has risen 82% under their rule, even as the country has projected a modernizing image to the outside world.

The number of executions annually has risen from an average of 70.8 between 2010-2014, to 129.5 per year since 2015, when the current king and crown prince came to power. Despite official claims that the death penalty does not apply to minors, at least 15 child defendants have been executed in the Kingdom since 2010, according to the data published by the human rights groups. Over 1,000 executions have been carried out in Saudi Arabia since 2015, the report said.

Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed Bin Salman attends the Formula-E Race at Diriyah Race Track, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 28, 2023.
Saudi Press Agency/VIA Reuters

The report also looked into the increasing use of mass executions, such as the record number of 81 people executed on a single day in March of last year on a range of charges, including terrorism. The UN’s High Commissioner Human Rights groups condemned the mass execution, saying that the regime had implemented “an extremely broad definition” of terrorism that includes non-violent acts.

“The explosion in the number of executions in Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman is a crisis the international community cannot continue to ignore,” Reprieve Director Maya Foya shared in a statement. “Every data point in this report is a human life taken … And all while MBS lies to the world that he has reformed the system to reduce the number of people executed. When the US, UK and EU go along with these lies, it makes the next mass execution more likely.”

Human rights groups have long expressed concerns that the kingdom’s human rights record has been overlooked by the international community in favor of geopolitical and economic interests. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

However, the BBC received a statement from the Saudi Embassy in London in response to an investigation into the death penalty, which said other countries around the world use the death penalty at their own discretion.

"As we respect their right to determine their own laws and customs, we hope that others will respect our sovereign right to follow our own judicial and legislative choices," the statement said.

The judicial system that convicts defendants for capital crimes is shrouded in secrecy, according to the report, with the government often not notifying the defendants’ families and returning their bodies.

“This report provides a glimpse at what Saudi justice looks like now that MBS has been emboldened by Western governments that have failed to hold him accountable for the killing of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as numerous other crimes and abuses including Yemen war,” Abdullah al Oudah, whose father currently faces a death sentence, said in a statement shared with ABC News. “My father is possibly facing the death penalty any moment just because he called for peace and tweeted for reforms.”

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