Amnesty: Saudi Arabia Executing Foreigners Without Fair Trial

By Simon McGregor-Wood, Correspondent & Bureau Chief, ABC News Jerusalem

Every week in Saudi Arabia at least two people are executed.

And according to a new report by Amnesty International a disproportionate number of those having their heads chopped off in the desert kingdom are poor foreigners from Asia and Africa.

The report alleges those facing trial often do not understand the court proceedings if they do not speak Arabic. Many of them do not even have their own attorneys. Often they are kept for long periods in harsh conditions, and the report accuses the Saudi authorities of extracting false confessions under torture and coercion.

“Poor foreign workers are literally paying with their lives,” said Karen Allen of Amnesty International. “Frequently bamboozled by secretive and unfair trials concluded in a language they don’t understand. They go to their deaths with little assistance from their home countries and little mercy from a grossly unfair Saudi justice system.”

The report alleges that between 1985 and May 2008 Saudi authorities executed 1,695 people. Of these 830 were foreigners.

Foreigners account for 25 percent of the kingdom’s population but more than 50 percent of those suffering its death penalty.

The reports finds that Saudi nationals accused of capital crimes are eight times more likely to secure a stay of execution through the payment of so-called “blood money.”

It found that one pardon in every four cases was handed down to a Saudi national, compared with only one in 30, in trials with foreign defendants.

The report also says that Saudi Arabia remains one of the few countries continuing to execute women in large numbers and people for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18.

Saudi Arabia uses a strict form of Shariah religious law that exacts the death penalty for crimes such as rape, murder, armed robbery and drug dealing.

But perhaps the report’s most chilling case history was that of five men from Somalia convicted for robbery in 1999. They were condemned to death, flogged and imprisoned for five years.

The report says they had no idea they were going to be executed until the morning they were beheaded.

A Saudi representative was not immediately available for comment. But the Reuters wire agency said Saudi authorities reject regular criticism of the country’s death penalty and beheading, saying it is a humane method of execution and sanctioned under Islamic law. They also claim convicts are drugged before their execution to minimize the chances of pain.

Photo Credit: Reuters

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