10 October 2017 – On the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) would like to call attention toward the rising use of the death penalty in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in particular Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, one of the most frequent executioners in the world, has already carried out over 100 executions for the third year in a row. In January, Bahrain broke a seven-year de facto moratorium on capital punishment, executing three torture victims. Likewise, Kuwait ended a four-year moratorium on the death penalty when the government executed seven men that same month. ADHRB categorically condemns the use of the death penalty, and calls on all states, in particular Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, to commute all existing death sentences and impose an immediate moratorium on capital punishment with a view toward abolition.
In Saudi Arabia, the death penalty is imposed for a number of crimes, ranging from murder to drug smuggling, to peaceful dissent. While crimes like apostasy, adultery, blasphemy, and sorcery remain punishable by death, the vast majority of executions in Saudi Arabia are carried out for murder and non-violent drug crimes. In statistics concerning the period between 1 January and 1 June 2017 collected by the anti-death penalty organization, Reprieve, 41 percent of those executed by Saudi authorities were convicted of non-violent drug offenses. More broadly, between 2014 and 1 June 2017, 375 out of 438 executions were for non-violent drug crimes or murder, and only two were for sorcery or adultery, while no executions were carried out for blasphemy or apostasy. Despite the particular sentences, the study calculated that at this rate of executions over four years, the kingdom would execute almost 2,100 people by 2030.
On 2 October, Saudi Arabia carried out its 100th execution in 2017 and, a day later, authorities executed a Jordanian citizen, bringing the number of executions thus far this year to 101. This marks the third year in a row that Saudi Arabia has executed over 100 people. In 2015, the kingdom executed 157 people and in 2016, the kingdom executed 154 people. Yet the pace of executions has markedly increased since late June. Of the total number of executions carried out this year, 66 of these have been conducted since 21 June, marking a dramatic increase over recent months. At this pace, the Saudi government could match the record rate of executions in 2015.
Among those executed since late June were four peaceful dissidents, who had been arrested because of their participation in peaceful protests. Saudi authorities tortured them in order to coerce false confessions to terror crimes, and they were sentenced to death in unfair trials. Their executions have heightened fears of the imminent executions of 18 more detainees currently on death row, including seven minors. These men were arrested because of their participation in peaceful protests, tortured, and sentenced to death in unfair trials and without due process. Additionally, there are 15 more death row inmates sentenced over terror charges reportedly stemming from nonviolent political activity. At time of sentencing, these 15 had already served several years in prison without receiving adequate access to legal counsel. In total, there are at least 33 prisoners known to be on death row for non-violent, politically-motivated crimes in Saudi Arabia.
On 15 January 2017, the Bahraini government carried out its first executions in seven years when it killed Ali al-Singace, Sami Mushaima, and Abbas al-Samea by firing squad. Bahrain last carried out the death penalty in 2010, when it executed a migrant worker, and the last time a Bahraini was executed was in 1996. Al-Singace, Mushaima, and al-Samea were executed after being sentenced in trials that did not conform with international standards of due process. The men were tortured and forced to confess to crimes they did not commit, and were never permitted to meet with their legal counsel. As a result of these and other violations, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard deemed the sentences “extrajudicial.”
Since contravening the moratorium, the government has drastically increased the number of men on death row to the current total of 16. Nine detainees were sentenced to death in 2017 alone, more than doubling the number of death row inmates. In addition to those sentenced this year, Mohamed Ramadan and Husain Ali Moosa have been on death row since December 2014 and at imminent risk of execution since May 2015. Thirteen of the condemned prisoners on death row, including Ramadan and Moosa, have been sentenced to death on charges linked to basic rights like peaceful assembly, association or expression, and have faced torture at the hands of Bahraini security officials.
On 25 January 2017, Kuwait also broke its own de facto four-year moratorium on capital punishment, executing seven people, including a member of the royal family. The defendants were sentenced in unfair trials and were subject to due process violations. The executions were the first in Kuwait since 2013, when the government executed five people. The 2013 executions in turn, ended a previous de facto moratorium that had been in place since 2007.
“An increasing number of states around the world have passed legislation abolishing the death penalty, and the number of retentionist states decreases every year. However, we are faced with the horrifying fact that in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the death penalty remains seems to be an increasingly acceptable form of punishment for a range of crimes, including peaceful dissent,” states Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are increasingly using the death penalty as a political weapon against activists and peaceful dissidents, who are convicted only after torture and unfair trials. These executions fly in the face of international norms, as many of those on death row are certainly not there because of ‘most serious crimes,’ but for partaking in their internationally-sanctioned human rights. For the international community to stay silent on these cases is a travesty; they must speak up and take action.”
ADHRB calls on all states, including the members of the GCC, to halt executions and commute all current death sentences, with a view toward the ultimate abolition of capital punishment. ADRHB especially calls on Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to halt their use of executions for individuals expressing peaceful dissent, and in all cases where due process violations have occurred, including the use of torture.