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Saudi Arabia executes four people on New Year’s Eve

December was the deadliest month in the kingdom, taking the total number of executions in 2023 to more than 170
December was the deadliest month for executions in Saudi Arabia, with a total of 38 carried out in the month (AFP)

Saudi Arabia executed four people on New Year’s Eve, the Saudi Press Agency reported, taking the total number of executions carried out in the kingdom in 2023 to more than 170.

The four people executed on 31 December had been convicted of murder, the state-run SPA reported, citing statements from the interior ministry.

They included two in the north-western city of Tabuk, one in the capital Riyadh and one in Jazan in the south-west.

December was also recorded as the deadliest month for executions in Saudi Arabia, with a total of 38 carried out in the month.

Those executed over the course of 2023 included 33 people accused of terrorism-related crimes and two soldiers convicted of treason.

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The UK-based rights group Reprieve, which collects data on executions in Saudi Arabia, said it believed at least 172 people had been executed during 2023. But it said the total number could be higher because some executions are not publicly acknowledged by the authorities.

Human rights campaigners have long criticised the kingdom’s use of capital punishment.

In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that a Saudi court sentenced a man to death based on posts on his X account, formerly known as Twitter. 

His sentencing was decried as an example of how the Saudi government’s crackdown on freedom of expression on peaceful dissent has escalated. 

“Repression in Saudi Arabia has reached a terrifying new stage when a court can hand down the death penalty for nothing more than peaceful tweets,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW.

Reprieve Director Maya Foa also commented, saying: “Behind the mega-investments in sport and the facade of reform, the Kingdom remains one of the world’s top executioners. Owning the wrong books, posting a critical tweet, speaking to a journalist or disagreeing with the Crown Prince can earn you a death sentence.

"While world leaders stare at their shoes and agree to believe the regime’s lies, the killing continues relentlessly,” Foa added.

According to, Taha al-Hajji, legal director at European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to publicly distance himself from judicial decisions despite having absolute control over them.

“The Crown Prince has blamed ‘bad laws’ and rogue judges for Saudi Arabia’s continued execution crisis, but nothing gets done in the Kingdom without his approval," Hajji said.

'Chilling disregard for life'

Saudi Arabia carried out more executions in 2022 than any other country besides China and Iran, according to Amnesty International.

The rights group said that the kingdom executed 196 people that year, marking the highest annual number of executions that Amnesty had recorded in the country in the last 30 years.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, said that Saudi authorities had a “chilling disregard for life”.

“The authorities’ relentless killing spree raises serious fears for the lives of young men on death row who were under 18 at the time of the crimes,” she said. 

Despite international condemnation, Saudi authorities have defended their use of the death penalty, claiming it is necessary to maintain public order.

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