By Anthony Harwood/Gulf Times London Correspondent
Saudi Arabia is on course for a record number of beheadings and crucifixions in 2019 if the killings continue at the present rate.
The desert kingdom has already executed 43 people in the first three months of this year – the most recent being a Syrian man who was put to death on March 13th for smuggling amphetamine pills.
If this rate continues 172 will have been put to death by the end of the year – more than ever before.
So far, 21 people have been beheaded for drugs offences. But other crimes which carry the death penalty include adultery, renouncing Islam, treason, espionage, burglary as well as murder, terrorism or rape.
Despite an upward trend in the number of executions since 2000, Saudi Arabia is still in third place behind China and Iran, where between 249 and 285 people were executed in 2018.
The figures were compiled by human rights groups such as Death Penalty Worldwide, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Figures released in December by the watchdog, Reprieve, showed that executions doubled in Saudi Arabia under the new ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The number of people put to death between June 2017 – when MBS came to power – and March 2018 was 133, compared to just 67 in the preceding eight months before he was installed.
Nearly half of those were poor migrants, mostly from South Asia, who had been coerced into smuggling drugs.
Reprieve said that there had been nearly 700 executions in Saudi Arabia since 2014, averaging 13 a month.
In January 2016, 47 were killed in one day across 12 different provinces after being convicted of terrorism offences. It was Saudi Arabia’s largest mass execution since 1980 when 63 rebels were put to death for seizing Makkah's Grand Mosque.
In 2015, the authorities in Riyadh advertised for eight new executioners because it couldn’t keep up with the rising number of death sentences. It asked for no specific skills but said the job included "executing a judgement of death."
Nearly 40% (58) of those executed last year were convicted of drugs offences, with 77% of them being foreign nationals. "These are typically poor migrant workers, coerced into smuggling drugs in their intestines," said Reprieve.
In October, Saudi Arabia executed an Indonesian maid, Tuti Tursilawati, without either her family or the Indonesian authorities even being told. She had been found guilty in June 2011 of killing her Saudi employer, but claimed she had acted in self-defence after he tried to rape her.
Monday it emerged that a Saudi royal adviser sacked for being behind the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was not among those on trial for the killing.
Saud al-Qahtani was said to have ordered the killing over Skype with the words: "Bring me the head of the dog." But sources said he was not among 11 people now on trial, who face the death penalty if convicted.
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