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Saudi Arabia resumes executions of drug offenders after two-year reprieve

Saudi Arabia executed 20 men over drug convictions in a two-week span earlier this month, quietly resuming capital punishment for drug-related crimes after an unofficial two-year moratorium.

This year, there have already been 147 executions, according to a tally by ESOHR collated from reports in Saudi state media. Eighty-one men were put to death on a single day in March — Saudi Arabia’s largest mass execution in years.

But the 20 men put to death between Nov. 10 and Nov. 23 were the first to be executed for drug-related crimes since 2020.

“What is happening is completely nonsensical,” said Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi lawyer and legal consultant for ESOHR. “It defies the directives of the government and its remarks. Mohammed bin Salman himself came out and proclaimed that they will lessen the punishments.”

“And these aren’t the big bosses,” he continued. “The big bosses get away with it, and the victims are the downtrodden poor.”

Hussein Abo al-Kheir, a 57-year-old Jordanian national, is one of many men in prison for allegedly smuggling Captagon into Saudi Arabia. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention alleged last month that Abo al-Kheir was subjected to torture before signing a confession and was denied access to legal representation.

Last week, he told his sister, Zeinab Abo al-Kheir, that he was moved to the execution wing at the prison.

“I felt like he was saying goodbye to us,” said Zeinab of the call with her brother, who has been incarcerated since 2014. “He told me, ‘We had relief for two years after Mohammed bin Salman made this decision. So now they have muddled us and made us afraid. Mohammed bin Salman is evading the promises he made.’ ”

Zeinab, 61, said Hussein sounded hopeless and defeated as he recounted how two men were taken from his cell last week to be put to death. Guards have warned him, he told her, that he will be executed sooner if he speaks to the media — a threat Hajji, the rights lawyer, says he has heard from other prisoners.

But Zeinab said her brother urged her to speak out about his case, saying he has no other hope left.

“How can you be a prince who is preparing to become king and you make promises to the media and do something else in the shadows?” she said. “He treats people as if they’re in a slaughterhouse.”

Read the full story in the Washington Post here.