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Saudi Arabia puts seven men to death in largest execution in years

State media says men were convicted by court which has been criticised for punishing activists and protesters under guise of terrorism
Saudi Arabia has executed 31 people so far in 2024 (AFP/Ozen Kose)

Seven Saudi men were executed on Tuesday, the highest number put to death in one day since 81 were killed in March 2022.

The Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) convicted the men on terrorism charges, accusing them of betraying "their homeland, threatening its stability and endangering its security", the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, citing the Interior Ministry.

The men's names were listed in the SPA announcement, which is often the only information released about executions in the kingdom, but with little further detail.

Riyadh has now executed 31 people this year, after putting at least 172 people to death in 2023, rights groups monitoring executions in Saudi Arabia have said.

There were no public records or media reporting of any of the cases of the men executed on Tuesday, the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) and UK-based Reprieve told Middle East Eye.

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'It appears that these men were tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in complete secrecy'

- Jeed Basyouni, Reprieve

"It appears that these men were tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in complete secrecy," said Jeed Basyouni, who leads Reprieve's work in the Middle East and North Africa.

Over the past eight years, Duaa Dhainy, a researcher with ESOHR, said her organisation only had knowledge about three percent of death penalty cases before executions were carried out.

"NGO and public information about people on death row is very limited," Dhainy said.

Those executed in 2024 include 10 men convicted of terrorism charges by the SCC, which has been criticised for punishing activists and protesters.

Among those was Awn Hassan Abu Abdullah, who was executed on 30 January.

Abdullah was accused of joining a terrorist cell and financing terrorism, but ESOHR has reported that it believes he was arrested, tried and executed for "legitimate activies", including expressing his opinions and participating in gatherings.

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Basyouni said while the official announcement lists Tuesday's executions as terrorism cases, that definition has been used to "include children who joined protests, critics of the regime and people who merely disagreed publicly with Mohammed bin Salman".

It is the highest number of people put to death in the kingdom since March 2022, a year in which the kingdom carried out more executions than any other country besides China and Iran, according to Amnesty International.

"It is extremely disturbing that the Saudi authorities are executing prisoners en masse again, close to the two year anniversary of the worst mass execution in the kingdom's history," Basyouni said.

She noted next week's LEAP conference which will draw technology industry figures to Riyadh and the Formula One in Jeddah the week after.

"Everyone involved in these two events should know that just by being in Saudi Arabia and turning a blind eye to mass executions, they are making further killings more likely and offering international legitimacy to a deeply repressive regime," she said.

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