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Saudi execution surge ‘very disturbing’: UN rapporteur

Saudi Arabia's execution surge is "very disturbing" and out of line with global trends, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions told AFP on Wednesday. He spoke as the number of beheadings in the kingdom hit 89, compared with 87 during all of 2014, according to tallies by AFP. "It is certainly…
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Saudi Arabia’s execution surge is “very disturbing” and out of line with global trends, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions told AFP on Wednesday.

He spoke as the number of beheadings in the kingdom hit 89, compared with 87 during all of 2014, according to tallies by AFP.

“It is certainly very disturbing that there is such a fast pace of executions at the moment,” Christof Heyns said in a telephone interview from South Africa.

“If it continues at this pace we will have double the number of executions, or more than double the number of executions than we had last year.”

Heyns, who submits annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, said Riyadh’s use of the death penalty “is just so way out of line” with global trends where the number of executions and states which apply the death penalty is decreasing.

“So this is going in the opposite direction. It’s going against the stream,” he said.

Heyns, a professor of human rights law at the University of Pretoria, said statistics indicate that Saudi Arabia last year had the world’s third highest number of executions after China and Iran.

He said there are a number of concerns about the kingdom’s use of the death penalty.

Under international law, if capital punishment is imposed at all it should only be for murder, he said.

But in Saudi Arabia “more than half” the executions are for non-lethal crimes.

Under the Gulf nation’s strict version of Islamic sharia law, drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery are all punishable by death, as are other offences including espionage.

In a country of about 29 million, a “very high number of people for the population” are sentenced to death and executed, the special rapporteur said.

“It seems that many of these trials are in secrecy and that lawyers are not available and they do not comply with the standards of fair trial.”

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry has cited deterrence as a reason for implementing capital punishment.