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Saudi Arabia executes three soldiers accused of 'high treason'

The kingdom carried out 27 executions in 2020, down from 185 the previous year
Saudi soldiers seen during the withdrawal of fighters loyal to Yemen's separatist Southern Transitional Council in Yemen's Abyan province in December 2020 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia on Saturday executed three soldiers found guilty for "high treason" and "cooperating with the enemy," a statement from the kingdom's defence ministry said. 

The statement named the three soldiers as Mohammed bin Ahmed, Shaher bin Issa and Hamoud bin Ibrahim. It said a specialist court reached the verdict after a fair trial. 

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The ministry did not name the alleged "enemy," but the executions were carried out in the southern province bordering Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been at war for more than six years against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Saudi Arabia has come under increasing global scrutiny over its human rights record since the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate and the detention of women's rights activists.

Rights groups have called on the kingdom to abolish the death sentence, and have accused it of torture and unjust trials. Saudi Arabia denies the accusations.

The kingdom executed 27 people in 2020, down from a record 185 the year before, according to the Human Rights Commission, a government body.

Rights groups believe the drive to reduce the number of executions reflects the fall-out from the murder of Saudi journalist Khashoggi. 

Amnesty International in 2019 ranked Saudi Arabia as the country with the third-highest number of executions, after China and Iran.