Saudi Arabia accused of beheading 12 people ‘while global attention is focused on World Cup’

Saudi Arabia is accused of beheading 12 people ‘while global attention is focused on World Cup’ as country backtracks on pledge not to use the death penalty for non-violent crimes

  • 12 people executed by beheading in Saudi Arabia over the past two weeks
  • The country said in 2021 it would not use death penalty for non-violent crimes
  • Prisoners who were executed had been convicted for drugs offences 

Saudi Arabia has been accused of using the World Cup as a distraction after it beheaded 12 people over the last 14 days despite a pledge to not use the death penalty.  

The spate of executions were punishments for drugs offences, though the country implemented a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for non-violent crimes in 2021. 

Meanwhile, the Saudi leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, attended Sunday’s World Cup opening ceremony, sitting next to Fifa boss Gianni Infantino. 

Saudi Arabia's leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks as he receives the Saudi soccer team ahead of their participation in the World Cup  in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on October 23, 2022

Saudi Arabia’s leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks as he receives the Saudi soccer team ahead of their participation in the World Cup  in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on October 23, 2022

The Saudi crown prince (pictured, far right) chats with Fifa boss Gianni Infantino at the opening ceremony in Doha on Sunday night

The Saudi crown prince (pictured, far right) chats with Fifa boss Gianni Infantino at the opening ceremony in Doha on Sunday night

Human Rights charity Reprieve highlighted the case of a taxi driver facing imminent execution in a Saudi prison, whose sister last year asked former England star Alan Shearer for help.

Zeinab Abo al-Kheir wrote to the TV pundit after he said he wanted to ‘listen to the evidence about human rights abuses’ in the desert kingdom following the Saudi takeover of his former club, Newcastle United.

Her brother, father-of-eight Hussein, was sentenced to death after amphetamine pills were found hidden in his fuel tank at a border checkpoint.

But campaigners claim he confessed under torture and the drugs had been planted in his car while the vehicle was parked outside his home in Jordan.

Reprieve Director Maya Foa accused Saudi Arabia of carrying out the beheadings while the world’s attention was focused on the World Cup in Doha.

‘While Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was putting himself centre stage at the World Cup opening ceremony, seated next to Fifa supremo Gianni Infantino, taxi driver Hussein Abo al-Kheir was cowering in a cell, terrified that the executioner will take him next.

‘While all eyes are on the football, Saudi Arabia is carrying out a horrifying execution spree, killing people like Hussein, an innocent man who was tortured by Saudi police to ‘confess’.

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir's brother Hussein was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2014, with fears he could soon be executed

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir’s brother Hussein was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2014, with fears he could soon be executed

‘Qatar has rightly been criticised for its human rights record but its abuses pale in comparison to the Gulf megastate next door.

‘Saudi Arabia executed more people than ever before in the first six months of this year, and has now begun executing drug offenders, in large numbers and in secret, as the world focuses on its neighbour.

‘The Kingdom’s international partners must act now, to save Hussein and stop the bloodshed.’

If carried out, Hussein’s execution would be the 13th following the beheadings of three Pakistani men, four Syrians, two Jordanian and three Saudis.

The number of people executed by Saudi Arabia this year is at least 138, which is more than the totals of 2020 and 2021 combined.

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir, the sister of a taxi driver on death row in Saudi Arabia, asked former England striker Alan Shearer (pictured) to help save her brother's life

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir, the sister of a taxi driver on death row in Saudi Arabia, asked former England striker Alan Shearer (pictured) to help save her brother’s life

This includes 81 put to death in a single day in March, many of whom were political prisoners arrested in clampdowns on demonstrations among the Shia minority in the Eastern Province.

The high number of executions has taken place despite MBS pledging to ‘minimise’ capital punishment, with only those found guilty of murder or manslaughter being put to death.

Ms Foa added: ‘Mohammed bin Salman has repeatedly touted his vision of progress, committing to reducing executions and ending the death penalty for drug offences.

‘But as a bloody year of executions draws to a close, the Saudi authorities have begun executing drug offenders again, in large numbers and in secret’.

The prince has previously backtracked on other policies, such as on women’s rights.

Despite introducing looser restrictions on women in the ultra-conservative nation, including allowing them to join the military, he has also been behind the imprisonment of women’s rights activists.

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