Saudi Arabia: sharp rise in executions under Salman rule, says report

Annual average of death sentences since 2015 has increased by 82 per cent, according to Reprieve and the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights

The rate of executions in Saudi Arabia has risen sharply since King Salman and his son Mohammed bin Salman took power in 2015, according to a report issued on Tuesday by British-based charity Reprieve and the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights.

The 44-page report, entitled Bloodshed and Lies: Mohammed bin Salaman’s Kingdom of Executions, says “the six bloodiest years of executions in Saudi Arabia’s history have all occurred” under their leadership.

Between 2010-2014 there was an annual average of 70.8 death sentences, but since then the figure reached 129.5, an increase of 82 per cent. The total was more than 1,000, including 11 children (those accused of crimes allegedly committed before the person turned 18).

The report says the death penalty has been imposed “disproportionately” against non-Saudis.


In March last year, 81 men were executed in one day. Twenty three of those executions were for a lethal crime. This was the

“largest mass execution in the modern history of the country,” the report stated.

Reprieve’s director Maya Foa told London-located Middle East Eye website that Saudi allies’ failure to condemn Riyadh for the execution of people demanding democratic rights “makes mass executions more likely“.

Capital punishment has been imposed under the kingdom’s ultraconservative version of Islamic canon law, sharia. Executions are carried out for murder, drug-trafficking and smuggling, sexual offences, membership of a criminal or outlawed group, kidnapping while carrying out burglary or robbery, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and state security offences. Treason and sedition have been used to eliminate reformists and protesters as well as other non-lethal offenders.

Decisions, especially on capital offences, “are taken behind closed doors [and] court documents are forbidden from being published.”

This is a departure from the traditional practice of execution by beheading on Fridays in public places after publication of the names and crimes of the condemned.

The forword to the report is written by Lina al-Hathloul, whose sister Loujain, a human-rights activist and Nobel peace prize candidate, was kidnapped, disappeared, tortured, and sentenced to five years in prison under an antiterrorism law. Due to foreign pressure, she was released in early 2021 but banned from foreign travel.

Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has impressed foreign observers and courted Saudi youth by carrying out social reforms in the deeply conservative kingdom. While he has allowed women to drive and travel freely and opened cinemas, cafes, and venues for Arabic, pop, and Western classical music, he has conducted a harsh crackdown on dissent and brutally suppressed the restive Shia minority in the gas-and-oil-rich eastern Province.

The Irish Times received no reply to its request for comment from the Saudi press office on the report.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times