Saudi Arabia executed 184 last year including man arrested for WhatsApp messages

Saudi Arabia executed 184 people last year, including three prisoners who were teenagers when they were arrested.

The grim figure is the highest number of state killings which have taken place in the Middle Eastern country in the last six years.

Among the dead was Abdulkarim al-Hawaj beheaded at 21. He had been arrested age 16 for sending WhatsApp messages about an anti-government demonstration.

He was tortured with electricity while his hands were chained above his head until he confessed.

Abdulkarim and 36 others were executed on a single day in April during a beheading bloodbath for prisoners convicted of ‘terrorism’ offences.

One was crucified and put up in display as a warning to others.


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A second youngster, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, was put to death after being arrested as a 17-year-old boarding a flight to the US where he was due to begin his studies at Western Michigan University.

Campaigners say he was convicted solely on the basis of a confession extracted under torture after he was severely beaten all over his body, including the soles of his feet.

Court documents showed that Mujtaba al-Sweikat confessed to throwing Molotov cocktails at security forces and running a chat group on his Blackberry phone that helped to organise the demonstrations.

His father insisted that his son only twice joined demonstrations and for five minutes on each occasion.

"He was subjected to psychological and physical abuse which drained his strength,’ said Nader al-Sweikat.

"The interrogator dictated the confession and forced him to sign it so that the torture would stop. He signed it."

Another of those killed was teenager Salman Qureish, who was arrested shortly after his 18th birthday accused of crimes he committed as a juvenile.

Sentencing a person to death who is under 18 is banned under international law.

The executions of the youngsters went ahead despite Saudi Arabia vowing not to put to death anyone who was a juvenile at the time of their offence.

One of the 184 was gay and put to death after confessing to sex with four other men on trial.

Maya Foa, director of campaign group, Reprieve, called on the US and UK to call out the executions in the ‘strongest possible terms’ saying that international pressure ‘can make a difference’.

She said: "According to official Saudi figures, 37 people were executed for 'terrorism' offences in 2019, but a closer look at the charges – 'disobedience against the King,' 'preparing banners with anti-state slogans,' 'incitement via social media' – reveals who these so-called terrorists really are.

"Mujtaba al-Sweikat and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj were arrested after taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations.

"For all the talk of reform, Saudi Arabia is still a country where attending a protest or criticising the regime can get you killed."

The human rights charity insisted that Saudi Arabia puts an end to all human rights abuses ahead of the G20 summit which the country’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, is due to host in Riyadh later this year.

Ms Foa added: "These latest execution figures expose the gap between the reformist rhetoric and bloody reality of Mohammed Bin Salman's Saudi Arabia.

"As the Crown Prince travels the world meeting heads of state, his regime has been executing young men arrested as children for the 'crime' of standing up for democracy.

"With the G20 summit in Riyadh fast approaching, 2020 must be the year that the Kingdom's partners stop falling for the Saudi charm offensive and insist on an end to these egregious human rights abuses and violations of international law."

Reprieve’s figures show that 82 were put to death for drug smuggling and 57 for murder.

The number killed in 2019 is more than double the 88 prisoners put to death in 2014.

Of the 184 who died, 88 were Saudis, 90 were foreigners and six of unknown nationality.

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