Reports of a 'worrying increase in death sentences against political dissidents in Saudi Arabia, including the Shia Muslim minority'
Saudi Arabia should immediately repeal the death sentences of 14 members of the country’s minority Shia population over protest-related crimes, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
In a counter-terrorism trial last month, a Saudi court upheld the sentences after they were handed down on 1 June 2016, following what HRW described as a “grossly unfair trial of 24 Saudi Shia citizens”.
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“The rise in death sentences against Saudi Arabian Shia is alarming and suggests that the authorities are using the death penalty to settle scores and crush dissent under the guise of combating ‘terrorism’ and maintaining national security,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.
Amnesty and HRW, the latter said in a statement, have recorded a “worrying increase in death sentences against political dissidents in Saudi Arabia, including the Shia Muslim minority”.
Last month, several Saudis were killed in the largely Shia Eastern Province as authorities cracked down on protesters attempting to prevent the demolition of a historic town. The security services have claimed the Almosara neighbourhood in the town of Awamiyah is being used as a hideout for militants.
The human rights groups also criticised the legal proceedings which led to the convictions in the first place.
Nearly all of the defendants, the statement said, retracted their “confessions” during trial judgments, saying they were “coerced in circumstances that in some cases amounted to torture, including beatings and prolonged solitary confinement”.
The court rejected all torture allegations without investigating the claims, HRW added.
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All defendants were also held in pre-trial detention for more than two years before their trials even began.
“The sham court proceedings that led to death sentences for 38 Shia men and boys brazenly flout international fair trial standards,” said Lynn Maalouf, director of research at Amnesty International in the Middle East. “The sentences should immediately be quashed.”
Saudi Arabia is a world leader in executions, and more than 100 people have been executed since January 2016, according to HRW.
In that month, prominent Saudi Shia cleric and government critic Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed, following what HRW called a “grossly unfair trial.”
“Death sentences based on coerced ‘confessions’ violate international human rights law and are a repugnant yet all-too-common outcome in security-related cases in Saudi Arabia,” Maalouf said. “These death penalty trials fail to meet even the most basic requirements for due process.”