Saudi Arabia said on Saturday that it had put 81 people to death in what was the kingdom’s largest mass execution in years, despite recent promises to curb its use of the death penalty.
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, the director of the European Saudi Organization 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 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 the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate and a crackdown on dissent have left lasting stains on its reputation.
Mr. Adubusi’s rights group said that of the cases it had been able to monitor and document among the 81 people executed, it had found no charges that merited the death penalty under the criteria that Saudi Arabia has made public. Some of the charges were related to participation in human rights demonstrations, the group said.
It said it had not been able to document many of the cases because of the Saudi justice system’s lack of transparency, and because family members of some of the accused had been threatened and intimidated.
The ministry said the defendants had been able to exercise “their full rights under Saudi law” before Saudi courts, including the right to a lawyer. But the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said it had documented cases in which defendants had been denied access to a lawyer, tortured and held incommunicado.
“The world should know by now that when Mohammed bin Salman promises reform, bloodshed is bound to follow,” Soraya Bauwens, the deputy director of Reprieve, an advocacy group that tracks executions in Saudi Arabia, said in a statement on Saturday.
Noting that Western countries were looking to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest oil producers, to help make up for the shortfall in oil supplies as many countries shun energy from Russia because of President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, she added, “We cannot show our revulsion for Putin’s atrocities by rewarding those of the crown prince.”
Read the full story in The New York Times.