Saudi Arabia executed 81 men on Saturday, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian, for terrorism and other offences including holding “deviant beliefs”, authorities said, in the biggest mass execution in decades.
The number dwarfed the 67 executions reported in the kingdom in all of 2021 and the 27 in 2020.
“These individuals, totalling 81, were convicted of various crimes including murdering innocent men, women and children,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
“Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations, such as Isis (Islamic State), al-Qaeda and the Houthis,” it added.
Some travelled to conflict zones to join “terrorist organisations”, the statement said.
The ministry did not say how the executions were carried out.
The men included 37 Saudi nationals who were found guilty in a single case for attempting to assassinate security officers and targeting police stations and convoys, the ministry added.Those put to death included seven Yemenis and one Syrian, it said.
The kingdom executed 63 people in one day in 1980, a year after militants seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, according to state media reports.
A total of 47 people, including prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, were executed in one day in 2016.
Rights groups condemned the executions, saying they flew in the face of claims by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,
Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, that the country was overhauling its justice system and limiting its use of the death penalty. “These executions are the opposite of justice,” said Ali Adubusi, director of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, a watchdog group. He said that in many of the cases, the charges against the accused involved “not a drop of blood.”
Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security according to its laws.
Saudi Arabia has tried to clean up its image in recent years as it seeks to attract more tourism and business. But its war in Yemen, the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate and a crackdown on dissent have damaged its reputation. – Reuters/New York Times