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Saudi executioners have had one of their bloodiest years. Who’s next?

After nine years in a prison in Saudi Arabia, Hussein Abo al-Kheir, 57, was recently moved to his death cell. Now it is feared he will be the next person to die since Saudi Arabia resumed executing people for drug offences.

“I can’t describe his pain, he is suffering too much,” Kheir’s sister, Zeinab, said as she spoke of his imprisonment on charges of smuggling Captagon or amphetamines across the border from Jordan. Hussein says he has no idea how the substances ended up in his car.

Zeinab last spoke to her brother four days ago. “He is preparing himself to die, he is very stressed and very disappointed,” she said. He had told her: “It’s better that they kill me than keep me living this life. This isn’t life.”

The killings of 20 people in the first two weeks of November marked an end to an informal moratorium on the use of the death penalty for drug offences imposed in 2020.

According to lawyers, many of those executed are minor offenders rather than the drug kingpins that have turned the country into the main buyers of amphetamines in the region. During the moratorium Kheir had thought that he would soon be eligible for release as he had served eight years. “He had hope,” Zeinab said.

So far 147 people have been executed this year, making it one of the country’s bloodiest years, according to Jeed Basyouni of the human rights organisation Reprieve. “The similar theme with both drugs and children is that Saudi Arabia made promises in 2020 that they were reforming their use of the death penalty — they were no longer going to execute child offenders, there was a moratorium on drugs — and we have just seen this rollback on those promises,” she said.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said Kheir’s detention “lacks a legal basis”. It has called on the authorities to “quash his death sentence” and free him. Read the full story in The Times.