11/23/2022, 11.53
SAUDI ARABIA
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With all eyes on Qatar, Riyadh beheads 12 drug convicts

The international community attacks Doha on rights, but the Saudis execute prisoners for non-violent offences in spite of bin Salman's promises. The 13th execution in less than two weeks is scheduled. Among those sentenced to death are inmates who confessed under torture.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - In the last 10 days Riyadh has executed at least 12 people, previously convicted of drug offences and largely foreign immigrants. While the eyes of the international community and activist movements are focused on Qatar, where the football World Cup has just begun amidst controversy and last minute denunciations of human rights violations, in the Wahhabi kingdom the executioner is striking again.

And it does so while public opinion is focused on the neighbouring emirate, where the Saudi national team yesterday obtained a historic and unexpected victory against Argentina, celebrated with a day of national holiday and messages of "congratulations" from the Houthis (rivals in Yemen) and Hamas. 

The latest executions were reported by the NGO Reprieve, which explicitly accuses Riyadh of exploiting the showcase offered by football to cover up yet another violation of rights and the "murderous madness" behind the extensive use of the executioner by beheading. All this while the Crown Prince himself and since a few weeks ago Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman (Mbs) had promised to limit this form of punishment by excluding non-violent crimes. 

The people executed, the NGO continues, had all been convicted of drug-related offences - trafficking or consumption - and none of them had committed violence against the person. Reprieve's director, Maya Foa, also warns that the number of executions could soon rise to 13 because a death row inmate is waiting days to end up in the hands of the executioner. 

The activist group tells the story of the taxi driver Hussein Abo al-Kheir: 'While Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was putting himself centre stage at the World Cup opening ceremony, seated next to Fifa supremo Gianni Infantino, taxi driver Hussein Abo al-Kheir was cowering in a cell, terrified that the executioner will take him next. While all eyes are on the football, Saudi Arabia is carrying out a horrifying execution spree, killing people like Hussein, an innocent man who was tortured by Saudi police to 'confess'. 

Riyadh, the group concludes, 'has executed more people than ever before in the first six months of this year, and has now begun executing drug addicts, in large numbers and in secret, while the world focuses on its neighbour'.

According to estimates by Reprieve, which collected data on this week's executions, most of the accused were beheaded with a sword. Three of the executed men were Pakistanis, four Syrians, two Jordanians and three Saudis. Finally, local sources report that another man, a Jordanian national, has been transferred to another wing of the prison where he is being held and is awaiting his death sentence, which is scheduled to take place on 25 November. 

In March, Riyadh had executed 81 people in a single day. The latest executions bring the total number of people killed in Saudi Arabia in 2022 to at least 132, which is already more than the number of those who ended up in the hands of the executioner in 2020 and 2021, adding the two years together. It is worth remembering that, in the first year of the pandemic, the global health emergency had slowed down executions. 

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