Saudi Arabia Beheads Murderer, Marking 39th Execution of 2015

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Published Thursday, March 5, 2015

Saudi Arabia beheaded one of its citizens for murder Thursday, adding to what Amnesty International has called an unprecedented pace of executions in the kingdom.

Manie bin Ali bin Muhsin al-Gahtani was convicted of allegedly gunning down another man, the Interior Ministry said in a statement reported by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Authorities carried out the sentence in the southwestern city of Abha.

Gahtani’s beheading was preceded by 3 previous ones on Tuesday bringing the number of executions this year to 39, according to an AFP tally, which is about three times the number over the same period in 2014.

Among those executed thus far there are five Pakistanis, two Jordanians, two Syrians, an Indian and a Yemeni, with few foreign governments willing to publicly appeal for clemency from the wealthy Gulf state.

Amnesty International recorded 11 executions between January 1 and February 26 last year, 17 for the same period during 2013, and 9 in 2012.

The numbers have been relatively close to each other in the past years following the spike from 27 to 80 between 2010 and 2011, however this years rate has “truly been unprecedented,” Amnesty's Saudi Arabia researcher Sevag Kechichian told AFP.

The interior ministry says the death penalty for murderers aims "to maintain security and realize justice," but rights groups have expressed concern about the dangers of the innocent being sentenced to death.

According to Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the defendants are often not allowed a lawyer and trials are unfair by all standards.

Saudi Arabia's legal code follows a strict version of Sharia according to its Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Judges are trained as religious scholars and have a broad scope to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of religious texts.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi version of Islamic sharia law.

In addition to criminals, activists as well are heavily persecuted in the kingdom, sentenced to variations of punishments from flogging to jail time to executions.

Human rights organizations and activists have called on Saudi Arabia to end death sentences and other brutal punishments, accusing the Saudi regime of curbing freedom of speech and opinion.

Among those sentenced to death is the outspoken Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr who has called for greater rights for Saudi minorities. Accused of "aiding terrorists" and "waging war on God," Nimr faces execution, however a set-time has yet to be assigned.

Nimr was detained in July 2012 after backing mass pro-democracy protests that erupted in February 2011 in the Qatif district of eastern Saudi Arabia, which is home to many of the country's marginalized Shia minority. His capture, during which he was wounded by police fire, prompted several days of protests in which three unarmed protesters were killed by Saudi forces.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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