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Secretive Saudi executions leave families in the dark

Executions of prisoners have been carried out in Saudi Arabia with no advance warning to their families, relatives have told the BBC. The country’s execution rate has almost doubled since 2015 – according to a new human rights report – the year when King Salman and his son Mohammed bin Salman took charge.

Mustafa al-Khayyat’s family were given no notice that he was about to be killed.

They still have no body to bury. No grave to visit. The last they heard from him was a phone call from prison, and he signed off with these words to his mother: “Alright, I have to go. I’m glad you’re OK.”

Neither had any inkling that it would be the last time they spoke.

A month later, Mustafa was dead – one of 81 men killed on 12 March 2022, in the largest mass execution in modern Saudi history.

Mustafa’s name is on a long and growing list put together by the campaign group Reprieve – which, along with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, has been meticulously documenting Saudi executions for a new report.

Based on data collected since 2010, their study has found that:

  • Saudi Arabia’s execution rate has almost doubled since King Salman took the reins in 2015, appointing his son Mohammed bin Salman to key positions
  • The death penalty has been routinely used to silence dissidents and protesters, contravening international human rights law, which states it should only be used for the most serious crimes
  • At least 11 people initially detained when they were children have been executed since 2015, despite Saudi Arabia’s repeated claims that it is curtailing the use of the death penalty against minors
  • Torture is “endemic” in Saudi prisons, even for child defendants

Reprieve documented 147 executions in Saudi Arabia last year, but says there could well have been more. It also says the country has “disproportionately” used the death penalty against foreign nationals – including female domestic workers and low-level drug offenders. Read the full story on the BBC.