Saudi regime executes 81 people in one day

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

Published March 14, 2022 3:00AM (EDT)

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Getty/Yoan Valat)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Getty/Yoan Valat)

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The government of Saudi Arabia has executed 81 people—including seven Yemenis and a Syrian national—over the past 24 hours in what is believed to be the largest mass execution in the kingdom's history.

Citing the country's interior ministry, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that most of those executed were Saudis.

"More than half were from the minority Shiite Muslim population," the Journal added. "The interior ministry didn't disclose how the men were killed. Executions in the past have involved beheading by sword in the kingdom, which remains among the world's top executioners despite recent efforts to curb the use of the death penalty."

In response to the mass killing, the human rights group Reprieve said in a statement that "the world should know by now that when [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman promises reform, bloodshed is bound to follow."

"Just last week the crown prince told journalists he plans to modernize Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system, only to order the largest mass execution in the country's history," the group said. "There are prisoners of conscience on Saudi death row, and others arrested as children or charged with non-violent crimes. We fear for every one of them following this brutal display of impunity."

"[British] Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit Saudi Arabia soon, to beg for Saudi oil to replace Russian gas," Reprieve continued. "We cannot show our revulsion for Putin's atrocities by rewarding those of the Crown Prince. Johnson must speak up and condemn these killings."

Those executed over the past 24 hours were accused of a variety of crimes, including "pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organizations." But the Saudi judicial system is notoriously unfair, frequently wielding its authority to silence and punish political dissidents.

"Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism law criminalizes any form of dissent," noted Rula Jebreal, a foreign policy analyst and a visiting professor at the University of Miami. "Peaceful activists, feminists, and critics are branded 'terrorists'—evidence against them [is] extracted by torture."

On Friday, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was finally released after serving 10 years in prison for allegedly "insulting Islam"—a case that helped galvanize global criticism of the Saudi regime's atrocious human rights abuses.

Despite the country's record, the United States in recent years—including during the Biden administration—has continued to supply the oil kingdom with weapons that it is currently using to wage a deadly war against Yemen, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Last weekend, Axios reported that U.S. President Joe Biden is weighing a spring visit to Saudi Arabia to "help repair relations and convince the kingdom to pump more oil" amid fears of a supply shortage during Russia's assault on Ukraine. The Biden administration has faced backlash over the past year for refusing to punish the Saudi regime for its role in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) argued that it would be "wildly immoral" for the president to visit Saudi Arabia in pursuit of more oil production.

By Jake Johnson

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