Islamic State’s penchant for beheading its enemies has earned the jihadist army international condemnation, but Saudi Arabia quietly decapitated scores of people last year, often in public.
“The use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe.”
The oil-rich kingdom’s beheadings are typically carried out by sword-wielding executioners who lopped off heads at a dizzying rate in 2014. Some 83 people convicted of murder, drug smuggling and even sorcery and apostasy were executed last year, according to the blog War is Boring. By some estimates, Riyadh executes more people per capita than any country other than Iran, Iraq and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
According to The Associated Press, last year’s grisly tally was the most in Saudi Arabia in a single year for at least the past five years. Experts believe the stepped-up executions may be in response to regional turbulence and the royal family’s desire to stamp out dissent within its borders. Riyadh backed the 2013 overthrow of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member with support on Saudi streets. In addition, notes War is Boring, thousands of Saudi citizens are fighting in Syria, and Riyadh elites are concerned they could bring their bloodlust home.
“The government is haunted by the memory of the thousands of Saudis who went to Afghanistan in the 1980s,” wrote Le Monde Diplomatique editor Alain Gresh. “Many of whom later came home and took part in violent acts against the monarchy.”
Amnesty International has criticized Saudi Arabia for its brutality.
“The execution of people accused of petty crimes and on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted through torture has become shamefully common in Saudi Arabia. It is absolutely shocking to witness the Kingdom’s authorities callous disregard to fundamental human rights,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program. “The use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe.”
According to Amnesty International, more than 2,000 people were executed in Saudi Arabia between 1985 and 2013. Minors and people with mental defects are not spared the death penalty, and the bodies of decapitated convicts are often left in public squares for days in a practice aimed at deterring crime.
The Kingdom has not slowed its pace in the new year: On Jan. 1, a Saudi man convicted of drug trafficking was executed.