A spree of executions that has sent10 prisoners to their deaths since the beginning of the year in Saudi Arabia must be halted, Amnesty International said today.
The beheadings included the death of Abdullah Fandi al-Shammari on 5 February 2013 who had originally been convicted of manslaughter, but was tried again on the charge of murder in proceedings that did not meet fair trial standards.
The case has attracted significant attention in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Shammari was beheaded having spent over 30 years in prison.
“This case has thrown the country’s flawed justice system into especially sharp relief, highlighting the serious lack of transparency, patently unfair trials, and fatal results,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In 1988, Abdullah Fandi al-Shammari was tried and found guilty of manslaughter for an alleged killing that took place in 1981 or 1982. He was ordered to pay compensation (diya) to the family of the victim, and was later released.
In 1990 the Supreme Judicial Council returned the case to the court of first instance for a retrial and he was subsequently rearrested, tried for the same act but on the charge of murder and sentenced to death in 1992.
His case was heard and determined in one session; he had no access to the file or to any legal assistance, and was not able to appeal against the sentence before it was confirmed by the Court of Cassation.
On various occasions, Abdullah Fandi al-Shammari was scheduled for execution before being given a reprieve by the authorities for negotiations to take place with the victim’s family.
Most legal proceedings in Saudi Arabia take place behind close doors. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by a lawyer, and may be convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under torture or other ill-treatment, duress or deception. In many cases they are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them.
Saudi Arabia has a high rate of executions. In 2011 at least 82 executions took place; more than triple the figure of at least 27 executions in 2010. In 2012, a similar number of people were executed.
Out of the 10 executed in the first five and half weeks of 2013, four were executed for drug related offences, and four were foreign nationals, including Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker, who was only 17 at the time of her alleged crime. As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from imposing the death penalty on persons who were under 18 years old at the time of the alleged offence for which they were convicted.
Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft. Such offences do not fall into the category of “most serious crimes” embodied in international standards, which require that the scope of crimes punishable by death must be limited to those involving intentional killing.
Offences such as apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft have been used to punish people for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, including the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, belief and expression.
The high rates of execution in the Kingdom are attributable to the wide scope of application of the death penalty.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.
“We appeal to the authorities to impose a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty, and join the worldwide trend towards abolition,” said Philip Luther.