In the first seven months of the year, the Kingdom has executed at least 40 people – a major spike compared to 2020.
Eight months after Saudi Arabia hosted the G20 summit, a body of nations founded on democratic ideals, the kingdom's human rights record has deteriorated significantly, with the number of executions and crackdowns on free speech increasing day by day, according to Amnesty International new report.
The report by the organisation said on Tuesday that there was a brief lull in the kingdom’s trial proceedings during the months leading up to the G20 summit, which focused on women’s empowerment and social justice.
The rate of executions had dropped by 85 per cent during that period, although the pandemic had disrupted the workings of its criminal justice system.
In what has been seen as a major increase, the kingdom executed 40 people between January and July this year, exceeding the number of executions it carried out in 2020. A record of 185 people was executed in 2019.
The NGO's report also documented that at least 13 people were prosecuted, sentenced, or their sentences ratified in “unfair trials” in the period that followed the G20 summit.
“As soon as the G20 spotlight on Saudi Arabia faded the authorities resumed their ruthless pursuit of people who dare to express their opinions freely or criticize the government,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“In one case, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced a humanitarian worker to an outrageous 20 years in prison for a simple tweet in which he expressed criticism of economic policies,” she said.
For Maalouf, the brief respite in repression coincided with Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the G20 summit last November indicating that “any illusion of reform was simply a PR drive.”
Human rights organisations including Amnesty and Human Rights Watched last year criticised G20 countries for awarding Saudi Arabia despite the Saudi government’s unrelenting assault on fundamental freedoms.
In February 2021, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised reforms aimed at “bolster the principles of justice, enforce transparency” and “protect human rights.” It’s unclear yet if these reforms took place or had any impact on addressing key laws.
Unfair and resumed trials
At least three people who have completed their prison sentences for their activism have been re-arrested, re-sentenced, or given an increased sentence by the SCC, Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror court, the group found.
One of them was Mohammad al-Otaibi, a founding member of the Union for Human Rights, an independent human rights organisation. Otaibi was already serving his 14-year prison sentence but The SCC, Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror court, added three more years in his sentence in December 2020.
According to the prosecutor, attempting asylum and communicating with international organizations are some of his crimes that caused additional charges. He was first brought to a trial in 2013, after formally requesting a licence to establish a human rights organization. Otaibi and another human rights defender were found guilty of continuing their work even though they were forced to sign a pledge to shut down the organisation.
Saudi authorities don't allow independent human rights organisations due to The Law on Associations, one of the laws that the crown prince promised to ratify.
In another case, Mustafa Darwish, a young Shia man was executed in June 2021 even though his death sentence issued three years ago was ratified.
“I was threatened, beaten and tortured into giving a confession… I confessed in fear for my life” he told the judge during one trial session.
Death sentences or lengthy prison sentences routinely follow confessions that are obtained by force, often torture.
Amnesty calls SCC “notorious” for being “intrinsically unfair” but some people didn't have a chance to be tried in the court -- a violation of both Saudi and international law. Meanwhile, many have been kept in solitary confinement while the authorities blocked their access to lawyers.
Currently 39 human rights defenders, activists or dissidents are behind bars in the kingdom, per Amnesty’s data.
The group says Saudi authorities want to show they are serious about respecting human rights as promised, they first immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and next, ensure that their convictions are quashed and all remaining penalties lifted.