The number of executions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last year was the highest seen there in 20 years. But just three months into 2016, the country has already executed 70 people — almost half as many people as it did in the entirety of last year.
“While Saudi executions are numerous, the country still ranked only third for total executions in 2014, behind China and Iran, but ahead of Iraq and the United States,” Newsweek reported Monday.
Saudi Arabia performs most executions by sword. In 2015, estimates from monitors say Saudi Arabia executed between 153 and 157 people.
“With death sentences imposed after deeply unfair — and sometimes secret — proceedings, with defendants often denied a lawyer, and with courts regularly convicting people on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted under torture, Saudi Arabia is making a mockery of justice and dozens of people are paying with their lives,” Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs Allan Hogarth, told the Independent. “The death penalty is always cruel and unnecessary, but the Saudi justice system lacks evens the basics of a fair trial system and it’s truly frightening that its courts are sentencing so many people to death.”
The last time the country killed over 150 people was in 1995, when the death toll was 192. This year, however, a spate of executions in January took the lives of 47 people, including prominent Shia Cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The mass execution was the largest in the Kingdom since 1980. Saudi Arabia executed its 70th person this year on Sunday, putting them on track to surpass the number of executions in 2015.
Sunday’s execution was of a man accused of murder and a number of others have been put to death this year for issues relating to terrorism. But al-Nimr and some of those executed in January were political dissidents. Human rights groups heavily criticized Saudi Arabia for putting al-Nimr and others like him to death.
“It is a bloody day when the Saudi Arabian authorities execute 47 people, some of whom were clearly sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials,” Philip Luther, the International Middle East director of Amnesty International, said in a statement on January 2.
Saudi has also been criticized for executing children — as young as 13 years old — and the mentally ill.
The Saudis have been under the microscope of human rights organizations for more than just executions this year. Saudi Arabia’s bombing of residential areas in Yemen has come under scrutiny and led to criticism of the United States for providing the weaponry used there.
Saudi Arabia’s economy has also taken a hit from the oil price crash, leaving it unable to pay foreign workers and opening it up to criticism from other governments.
“Foreign governments are pressing authorities and executives in Saudi Arabia to ensure that local construction firms make delayed salary payments to thousands of workers, a sign of pressure on the kingdom’s economy due to low oil prices,” Reuters reported Monday.