64 detainees face death penalty in Saudi: rights group

At least 64 people currently face execution in Saudi Arabia, including nine who were minors when they were charged, a rights group said on Friday.

The report published by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) is the latest criticism of Saudi Arabia’s continued use of capital punishment, which critics say undermines its bid to soften its image through a sweeping “Vision 2030” social and economic reform agenda.

A total of 61 people have already been put to death in the first half of the year, ESOHR said.

A separate AFP tally based on state media reports details 63 executions through June and 74 through this month.

“This alarming rate and the Kingdom’s continuous disregard for promises, international obligations, and laws confirm that the danger to the lives of death row detainees in Saudi Arabia is increasing,” ESOHR said.

It added that the true number of those killed this year could be higher because of “secret” or “unannounced” executions.

“Saudi Arabia has also persisted in its policy of withholding the bodies of those executed, despite families’ requests for them to be returned,” the group said.

“The number of bodies currently held is at least 140.”

The Saudi government did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The data from both ESOHR and AFP indicate the kingdom is currently not on track to match the total of 147 executions announced last year, which was more than double the 2021 figure of 69.

The 2022 total included 81 people put to death on a single day for offences related to “terrorism”, an episode that sparked an international outcry.

More than 1,000 death sentences have been carried out since King Salman assumed power in 2015, according to a report published earlier this year by ESOHR and the Britain-based group Reprieve.

However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s son and the de facto ruler, has said on multiple occasions that the kingdom was reducing executions.

In a transcript of an interview with The Atlantic magazine published by state media in March 2022, Prince Mohammed said the kingdom had “got rid of” the death penalty except for cases of murder or when someone “threatens the lives of many people”.