Saudi Arabia: Mass executions of protesters raises alarm that international human rights standards continue to be violated


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) deplores the mass execution by the Saudi authorities of 37 citizens, who have been put to death mostly for participating in peaceful protests. They were charged with "terrorism" and sentenced to death in trials that lacked all international standards of fair trial and due process. This is just the latest in a string of human rights violations committed by Saudi Arabia.

The executions took place suddenly in six cities across the country on 23 April 2019 with no notice given to their families. The Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), which was set up to try terrorism cases, convicted most of the men in two mass trials, 14 of them in the “Qatif 24 case” and 11 of the men in the “Iran spy case.” The SCC has largely been used to silence dissent often under the pretext of fighting terrorism, but many human rights defenders and protesters have been put on trial.

Among those reported to have been executed are 11 men accused of "spying for Iran" and 14 others who were convicted of "violence". Their trials were reported to have taken place in total disregard of due process. Of the 14 men arrested in relation to protests against the government in Al-Qatif in the Eastern provinces in 2011 and 2012, Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj (pictured above) was a minor at the time of his arrest. The 14 men told the court they had been tortured to extract confessions, and they were held in lengthy pre-trial detention. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the “shocking” and “abhorrent” executions.

Saudi Arabia has been under extreme scrutiny for massive human rights violations and the Public Prosecutor recently, due to huge international pressure, had rescinded the call for the death penalty in the case of woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgham, who was on trial at the SCC for peacefully protesting. Her trial earlier this year was postponed. Al-Ghomgham’s husband and other co-defendants continue to face the death penalty for their role in peaceful protests in Al-Qatif that began in 2011. The couple was arrested on 06 December 2015. See:

The mass execution is the first to take place since an international uproar was caused by the barbaric killing of “Washington Post” journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 02 October 2018 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. It also comes as dozens of women’s rights defenders remain in prison, including eight women who were supposed to be in court on 17 April 2019. That hearing was cancelled due to the judge’s “personal reasons.” Three others have been released but are due back in court in June 2019. That case is also alarming because it includes many high-profile women’s rights activists and their supporters, some of whom were labelled as “traitors” after their arrests in May 2018 a month before the right to drive was granted to women. In addition, 15 other supporters of women’s rights were arrested in March and early April 2019, leading to concerns that the women on trial and the other human rights defenders in prison would not be freed.

GCHR reiterates its calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Put an end to the use of the death penalty in all cases, and ensure it is not used in cases where confessions were extracted under torture;
  2. Immediately quash the convictions of all human rights defenders, including women and men advocating for gender equality and peaceful protestors, and drop all charges against them; and
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release all protestors, human rights defenders, writers, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights including women’s rights.