Sacrifice to the State – Capital Punishment in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

In 2014, around 72% of the world’s recorded executions took place in the Gulf.  Despite global trends moving away from capital punishment, countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have demonstrated a renewed commitment to the death penalty. Saudi Arabia, the third most prolific executioner in the world, has not only failed to reduce its use of capital punishment, but is also on pace to break its own record for annual executions. Bahrain, too, has regressed in recent years, lifting its moratorium on capital punishment and resuming an aggressive death sentencing policy.

Although Saudi methods of execution often garner comparisons to the Islamic State, the systems of capital punishment in either kingdom cannot be explained simply by brutality or extremism. To the contrary, for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain the death penalty operates part of a complex apparatus of state intimidation and control. Under the guise of Islamic law and criminal deterrence, the Saudi and Bahraini governments employ capital punishment as a means of targeted political repression.

ADHRB’s analysis, A Sacrifice to the State – Capital Punishment in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, examines the inner workings of the capital punishment mechanisms in both kingdoms, explaining how they are manipulated, exploited, and sometimes specifically designed to maintain state power. In particular, it shows how state authorities abuse these legal procedures to legitimate extrajudicial killing. The analysis draws on the recent cases of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, Lalia Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, Maher al-Khabbaz, and Sami Mushaima in order to illustrate the range of human rights and due process violations that occur at every stage of the Saudi and Bahraini criminal justice systems. Finally, ADHRB provides recommendations to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as the United Nations, to help prevent the further implementation of capital punishment as an instrument of political violence.