COVID-19 stops the executioner, reducing executions by 85 per cent in 2020

Last year 27 executions were reported, down from a record 184 in 2019. However, a third of them took place in December alone, raising fears of a new spike in 2021. Despite the moratorium, at least five inmates on death row were minors at the time of their offence.


Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The number of executions dropped considerably in Saudi Arabia in 2020 following recording breaking years (see 2019). Because of a shortage of executioners, Saudi authorities have also launched a recruitment drive.

Although the Saudi kingdom, still ruled as an absolute fiefdom, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is sending out signals of reform and modernisation, critics note that many people, some minors at the time of their offences, are still on death row.

According to data provided by the Saudi Human Rights Commission, “only” 27 people were executed last year, with a decrease of 85 per cent over the previous year.

One reason, experts say, is a moratorium on capital punishment for crimes related to drugs and drug trafficking.

At the same time, restrictions and lockdowns imposed by the authorities to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic have cut down the number of crimes.

For the president of the Commission, Awwad Alawwad, this is a sign that “the kingdom and its judicial system are focusing more on rehabilitation and prevention rather than punishment.”

In 2019 the executioner struck 184 times, a record according to several international NGOs.

Reprieve, an anti-death penalty NGO, counted 25 executions for 2020, the lowest figure since they started keeping records in 2013.

However, the number could jump significantly this year as pandemic-related restrictions were the main factor in last year’s drop.

In fact, a third of the executions recorded last year, Reprieve explains in a note, “were carried out in the month of December alone,” and in the last quarter, the trend saw a rapid increase over previous quarters.

In April, Riyadh had announced a moratorium on the death penalty for offenders who were minors at the time of their crimes.

However, at least five people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were underage are still waiting on death row, this according to the Saudi Human Rights Commission.

The latter also notes that decree announcing the moratorium was never published in the Official Gazette. What is more, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency, SPA, also failed to mention it as one of the main events of 2020.

ARABIA_SAUDITA_-_decapitazioneok.jpg