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UN experts call on Saudi Arabia to immediately stop drug executions

UN experts said they are particularly concerned for the imminent execution of Hussein Abo Al-Kheir, a Jordanian man on death row in Saudi Arabia on drug offences
UN experts said states like Saudi Arabia that haven't abolished the death penalty should only impose it for the most serious crimes (AFP)
UN experts said states like Saudi Arabia that haven't abolished the death penalty should only impose it for the most serious crimes (AFP)

UN experts have called on Saudi Arabia to immediately halt executions for drug offences and raised concerns about a Jordanian man believed to be at imminent risk of execution.

The call comes after Saudi Arabia carried out a wave of execution of inmates jailed on drugs offences, with 20 people put to death last month, including 12 foreigners, rights groups reported.  

'States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the most serious crimes, involving intentional killing'

- UN experts

“Under international law, states that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the ‘most serious crimes’, involving intentional killing,” the experts said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“Drug-related offences do not meet this threshold.”

On 10 November, Saudi Arabia began executing inmates convicted of drugs offences after a 21-month halt on the practice, the resumption of which has drawn strong criticism from British MPs and two Foreign Office ministers.

Rights groups documenting these cases say dozens of others convicted of drug crimes remain on death row.

One of them is Hussein Abo al-Kheir, a 57-year-old Jordanian who was arrested for allegedly carrying drugs in 2014 while crossing into Saudi Arabia. 

The father of eight made a living as a driver for a wealthy Saudi Arabian family, according to Reprieve which is representing al-Kheir.

According to Reprieve, he was tortured for 12 days into confessing to the crime, including being hung upside down from his feet and beaten, and was never given access to a lawyer.

He was convicted in 2015 and has been held in Tabouk Central Prison since then. 

On 18 November, he was transferred to a "death cell" and made calls to family members to say goodbye. 

Confessions under torture

UN legal experts found on 21 November that there was no legal basis for al-Kheir's detention and called for his death sentence to be overturned and for him to be released immediately.

On Wednesday, the experts said that they were concerned that al-Kheir's allegations of torture had not been investigated.

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“The use of evidence and confessions extracted under torture serving to convict individuals on death row not only violates the prohibition against torture but is also in conflict with the right to fair trial under international law,” the experts said.

They also raised concerns that more than half of the men executed in recent weeks are foreign nationals, which they said amounted to "discriminatory treatment of non-nationals".

Of the 20 men executed, there were five Syrians, three Pakistanis, two Nigerians and two Jordanians.

Rights groups have told Middle East Eye that it is not clear whether foreign governments were aware that their nationals were on death row or if they had attempted to intervene.

The UN experts said they were also alarmed that the executions happened "without warning" and were only confirmed after they happened, and called for the kingdom to consider fully abolishing the death penalty and commute the sentences of those on death row for drug offences.

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