Saudi Arabia’s human rights record could be neglected over need for cheap oil, groups say

LONDON – Saudi Arabia’s mass execution of 81 people in one day, condemned by activist groups as a “massacre”, has sparked fresh fears that the kingdom’s human rights record is on the mend again. ignored in the context of the global energy crisis.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said the men were convicted of a wide range of crimes, from murder to membership in foreign terrorist organizations.

“Criminal groups have strayed from the path of truth, replaced it with desires and followed in Satan’s footsteps,” the Interior Ministry said. said in a press release. “This country…is sure to deter anyone who threatens its safety and that of its citizens and residents.

Amnesty International has led calls for Saudi Arabia to abolish the death penalty following the mass execution, with some of the men executed for allegedly taking part in anti-government protests.

“This string of executions is all the more chilling in light of Saudi Arabia‘s deeply flawed justice system, which hands down death sentences after grossly and grossly unfair trials, including basing verdicts on coerced ‘confessions’. under torture or other ill-treatment,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement. declaration Tuesday.

Saturday’s executions brought the number of executions in the country to 92 this year, according to Amnesty International. The mass execution alone exceeded the total number of 67 executions that would have taken place in 2021, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The legal charity Reprieve said all those executed “were tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in the greatest secrecy”.

“Of the dozen or so cases we know of, at least a quarter were tortured to make false confessions to terrorism offenses after participating in pro-democracy protests,” Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, told ABC News. .

The Saudi Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Just days after the mass execution, which drew international condemnation, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is visiting Saudi Arabia amid concerns over global energy supplies following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Johnson will meet with leaders of the United Arab Emirates before traveling to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Wednesday.

“The UK is building an international coalition to deal with the new reality we face,” the prime minister said ahead of the visit. “The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin’s addiction to oil and gas. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in this effort. We will work with them to ensure regional security, support the humanitarian relief effort and stabilize global energy markets over the longer term.

Asked about the executions ahead of Johnson’s trip on Tuesday, a Downing Street spokesperson told ABC News: “The UK strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in all countries as a matter of principle. The government will raise this issue with the Saudi authorities. »

Reprieve, however, warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could cause world leaders to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s latest human rights abuses in a bid to secure lower prices. fuel.

“Mohammed Bin Salman is betting the West will look the other way because he’d rather fund his blood-soaked oil state than Putin’s war machine,” Foa of Reprieve said.

Michelle Bachelet of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted investigations into the execution “indicate that some of those executed were sentenced to death after trials that failed to respect fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not did not seem to meet the threshold of the most serious crimes, as required by international law”.

She expressed concern that Saudi Arabia’s “extremely broad definition of terrorism, including non-violent acts” leads to “criminalization of people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”. .

The 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, as well as the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, exacerbated by the kingdom’s war with Iran-backed Houthi rebels, have sparked renewed calls from human rights groups to reconsider the situation. The West’s historic alliance with Saudi Arabia.

“We must not show our disgust for Vladimir Putin’s atrocities by rewarding those of Mohammed Bin Salman,” Foa said. “Finding a deal with Saudi Arabia now, despite this mass execution, would virtually guarantee that more people whose only crime was to challenge the status quo will be executed.”

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