Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Amnesty condemns Saudi executions

By Christian Fraser

BBC Middle East correspondent

Executions in Saudi Arabia are being carried at an average rate of more than two a week, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

The human rights group says the rate of executions in the Kingdom has increased markedly in recent years.

In their report, they say foreign nationals bear the brunt of executions.

Saudi Arabia is also one of the few remaining countries to execute people for crimes they committed while under the age of 18.

On Friday in downtown Riyadh the crowds gather at Justice Square, outside the grand mosque. It is a place Westerners have dubbed "Chop Chop Square".

On the stage, awaiting the blade of the scimitar, stands the condemned. The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is beheading under the law of the sharia.

'Secret trials'

Although the Kingdom refuses to provide official statistics on how many people it kills each year, Amnesty International has recorded at least 1,695 executions between 1985 and May 2008.

Of these, 830 were foreign nationals - a highly disproportionate figure since foreigners only make up about a quarter of the country's population.

The rate of execution has increased, says the charity in its report "Affront to justice: Death penalty in Saudi Arabia", following an extension of the death penalty to crimes for drugs offences and corruption.

According to the report, the trials are often held secretly, foreigners would be unable to understand the proceedings because routinely they are denied access to a lawyer and, in some cases, they have no idea they have even been convicted.

Six Somalis beheaded this year were only told they were to be killed on the morning of their execution.

Confessions are usually extracted through torture, ranging from cigarette burns, to electric shocks, nail-pulling, beatings and threats to family members, Amnesty says.

It adds that, while pardons are sometimes granted, Saudi nationals are eight times more likely to escape execution through the payment of a diya or "blood money".

Republished from BBC News

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