Saudi Arabia said on March 12 it had executed a record 81 people in one day for terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number killed last year and sparking criticism from rights activists.
All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes”, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Huthi rebel forces or “other terrorist organisations”.
The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world’s highest execution rates, and has often carried out previous death sentences by beheading.
Those executed had been sentenced over plotting attacks in the kingdom – including killing “a large number” of civilians and members of the security forces, the SPA statement read.
“They also include convictions for targeting government personnel and vital economic sites, the killing of law enforcement officers and maiming their bodies, and planting land mines to target police vehicles,” the SPA said.
“The convictions include crimes of kidnapping, torture, rape, smuggling arms and bombs into the kingdom,” it added.
Of the 81 people killed, 73 were Saudi citizens, seven were Yemeni and one was a Syrian national.
SPA said all those executed were tried in Saudi courts, with trials overseen by 13 judges, held over three separate stages for each individual.
“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten stability,” the news agency added.
Saudi Arabia has been the target of a series of deadly shootings and bombings since late 2014 carried out by IS group extremists.
The kingdom is also leading a military coalition that has been fighting in Yemen since 2015 against Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who have in turn launched strikes on Saudi Arabia.
But the executions sparked condemnation from Britain-based campaign group Reprieve.
“Just [the previous] week the Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] told journalists he plans to modernise Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, only to order the largest mass execution in the country’s history,” Reprieve said.
“There are prisoners of conscience on Saudi death row, and others arrested as children or charged with non-violent crimes. We fear for every one of them following this brutal display of impunity.”
The announcement on March 12 of 81 deaths marks more than the total of 69 executions in all of 2021.
Up until March 12, Saudi Arabia in 2022 had executed 11 people convicted of various crimes, according to an AFP tally based on official announcement. This brings the total executed so far this year to 92.
Around 50 countries worldwide continue to use the death penalty.
In 2020, 88 per cent of all 483 reported executions took place in just four countries: Iran, with 246, followed by Egypt with 107, Iraq with 45, and then Saudi Arabia, which carried out 27 that year, according to Amnesty International.
The executions on March 12 were announced a day after the release of Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ prison on charges of insulting Islam.