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Saudi Arabia urged to halt execution of two Bahraini men

Executions in Saudi Arabia have more than doubled in the last two years, Amnesty International says
The Faisaliya Tower stands among other buildings in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on 5 December 2019 (AFP)

Amnesty International urged Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to halt the execution of two Bahraini men accused of terrorism-related crimes, as use of the death penalty spikes in the conservative kingdom.

The kingdom has so far killed more than 100 people since the beginning of this year and executions have more than doubled compared to 2020, Amnesty said in a report Tuesday analysing the use of the death penalty worldwide. 

In a separate statement, Amnesty highlighted the cases of Jaafar Mohammad Sultan and Sadeq Majeed Thamer, two Shia men from neighbouring Bahrain whose death sentences were upheld by Saudi Arabia's supreme court last month. Amnesty said the pair "are at imminent risk of execution".

The sentences were handed down in October 2021 after a "grossly unfair" trial, with accusations including "smuggling explosive materials into Saudi Arabia and participating in anti-government protests in Bahrain", the London-based rights group said.

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Saudi authorities detained the men in October 2015, and the men have testified "that they were tortured and that their so-called confessions were extracted under duress", Amnesty said.

In 2011, Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help crush the 2011 protests against the al-Khalifa ruling family.

Demonstrators were demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world, and in March it carried out one of the biggest mass killings in years, putting 81 people to death in a single day.

Human rights group Reprieve condemned the executions at the time and said it feared for prisoners of conscience, including individuals arrested as children, on Saudi death row. 

"The world should know by now that when [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman promises reform, bloodshed is bound to follow," said Reprieve deputy director Soraya Bauwens in a statement. 

"Just last week the crown prince told journalists he plans to modernise Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system, only to order the largest mass execution in the country’s history.

The recent uptick in executions in Saudi Arabia comes as the kingdom tries to soften its image to attract foreign investors. Saudi Arabia aims to become a hub for business and tourism in the region as part of its transition away from petrodollars.