‘Top-secret’ Saudi death warrant reveals execution procedure

October 25, 2016

Image of a beheading occurring

A warrant for a public execution in Saudi Arabia has emerged, shedding rare light on the death penalty in the country just days before the government hopes to be re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

The document, published on Twitter this morning (Tuesday), is marked ‘top-secret’, and contains instructions for the execution of a prisoner. It has since been reported that the execution went ahead. The warrant shows the Saudi authorities ordering a doctor to be present at the execution, for the corpse to be taken to a hospital, and for medics to sign a document confirming that the prisoner is dead. It reads:

Urgent – top secret: To the manager of health in the Qurayyat governorate, it has been decided to carry out the execution of a prisoner (discretionary death sentence) at 9am in Retribution Square on Tuesday 24/1/1438 [Islamic calendar]. Therefore, please inform Qurayyat General Hospital to carry out the necessary procedure upon receipt of the prisoner’s corpse from the municipality and to commission the forensic doctor to be present for the execution and to sign the minutes of the execution after confirming that the sentenced is dead [lit: until life is gone].

[Signed] Director of the Qurayyat Police, Brigadier-General Mufdhi bin Abdallah al-Khamees

Executions in Saudi Arabia are typically shrouded in secrecy. Warrants – and details of the procedure surrounding executions – rarely make their way into the public sphere, with beheadings usually carried out with no prior notification to the accused or their families.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners. Research last year by human rights organization Reprieve found that, of those facing execution in the Kingdom, some 72% were arrested for non-violent offences, such as alleged drug crimes and political protest. Many of those arrested on drugs charges are foreign nationals, including migrant workers who were trafficked from countries such as Pakistan.

Several juveniles have been executed in Saudi Arabia this year, including Ali al-Ribh, who was arrested in school in 2012 for allegedly attending a protest. Three juveniles – Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher – are currently awaiting execution on similar charges, having been tortured into ‘confessions’ and sentenced to death in secretive trials. Reprieve has urged the UK government to ask the Saudi authorities to commute their death sentences.

The leaked execution warrant comes days before Saudi Arabia hopes to be re-elected onto the UN’s Human Rights Council this Friday. Last month, it emerged that Saudi Arabia had misled the UN over its practice of executing juveniles, falsely telling UN child rights experts that it did not execute those who were arrested as children.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“It is chilling to see the Saudi execution procedure laid bare. The gruesome details contained in this warrant only serve to highlight the shocking abuses that continue in the Kingdom. Many of those facing execution are exploited migrant workers who were arrested on non-violent drugs charges. Others – including juveniles like Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher – await beheading for the so-called ‘crime’ of political protest. Countries that are close to Saudi Arabia, including the UK, must urge the Saudis to commute the sentences of these juveniles, and end the sweeping use of the death penalty in the Kingdom.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 20 7553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The warrant can be seen here, while an official notice confirming that the execution took place is here.

3. Reprieve’s research on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available here.

4. Concerns over the role of international counter-narcotics programmes were reported last weekend in the Observer, here.

5. More detail on the cases of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher is available on the Reprieve website, here

6. Background on the Saudi government’s claims to the UN, last month, is here.