a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was one allegation that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings within the country. On March 3, Makki al-Orayedh died while in police custody after police detained him on March 1 at a checkpoint in Awamiya. On March 5, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) claimed police tortured al-Orayedh to death. According to ESOHR, authorities claimed al-Orayedh died due to “a psychological state of fear.” Local media did not report on whether authorities investigated his death.
Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia, capital punishment can be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and often reduced on appeal. The law requires a five-judge appellate court to affirm a death sentence, which then must be unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Council; defendants are generally able to appeal their sentences. Closed court proceedings in some capital cases, however, made it impossible to determine whether authorities allowed the accused to present a defense or afforded minimum due process rights. Since the country lacks a written penal code listing criminal offenses and the associated penalties for them (see section 1.e.), punishment–including the imposition of capital punishment–is subject to considerable judicial discretion in the courts. In addition, there is no right under the law to seek a pardon or commutation of a death sentence for all crimes. The law of criminal procedure provides that the king may issue a pardon “on pardonable matters” for public crimes only. Such pardons are generally issued annually during the holy month of Ramadan, in advance of which the Ministry of Interior publishes a list of terms and conditions defining eligibility to receive a royal pardon (see also section 1.d.). The stated conditions generally exclude specific criminal categories, for example, those convicted of crimes involving state security. The law of criminal procedure states that a victim’s heirs may grant a pardon for private crimes.
On January 2, authorities executed 47 individuals. Among them was prominent Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr, who was charged with inciting terrorism and sedition, interfering in the affairs of another country, disobeying the country’s guardians, attacking security personnel during his arrest, and meeting with wanted criminals. International human rights organizations claimed al-Nimr was executed because of his sermons criticizing authorities and calling attention to discrimination against Saudi Shia. Local and international human rights organizations noted that his trial before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) lacked transparency and did not adhere to minimum fair trial standards.
On December 6, the SCC handed down initial death sentences to 15 individuals and sentenced 15 others to prison terms for spying for Iran; two additional individuals were acquitted. As of year’s end, the sentences were under appeal. HRW issued a report in May that claimed there were multiple due process violations in the trials of the men, many of whom were reportedly Shia. HRW further claimed that they had been held incommunicado in pretrial detention for a prolonged period without access to legal counsel and that, before and throughout court proceedings, their legal counsel was not able to review the evidence against them.
The government also imposes death sentences for crimes committed by minors. According to accounts from local and international human rights organizations, family members, and local media, at least three individuals executed on January 2–Mustafa Abkar, Ali al-Ribh, and Amin al-Ghamidi–may have been minors when they allegedly committed the crimes for which they were convicted.
On July 27, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced Abdulkareem al-Hawaj to death for crimes he allegedly committed in 2012 at age 16, including “throwing two Molotov cocktails,” “participating in riots that resulted in the shooting of an armored vehicle,” “participating in illegal gatherings,” “chanting against the state,” and using social media “to insult the leaders,” according to a September 9 Amnesty International report. As of year’s end, the sentence was under appeal.
In September 2015 the Supreme Court affirmed the 2014 death sentence for Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, the nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, who was convicted of crimes he allegedly committed when he was 17. Al-Nimr was charged with protesting, making, and throwing Molotov cocktails at police, aiding and abetting fugitives, attempting to attack security vehicles, encouraging others to participate in protests, and involvement with individuals who possessed and distributed ammunition, according to some media sources whose accuracy could not be verified. Human rights organizations reported due process concerns relating to minimum fair trial standards, including allegations that authorities arrested al-Nimr without a warrant, obtained a confession using torture, and repeatedly denied him access to his lawyer during the sentencing and appeals process. In September and October 2015, the Supreme Court upheld death sentences for Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, convicted of crimes allegedly committed when they were 17 and 15, respectively. As of year’s end, these executions had not been carried out.
Executions were sometimes conducted for nonviolent offenses. HRW reported that as of July 27, authorities had executed 13 persons for nonviolent crimes related to drug smuggling.
Suicide bombers conducted a number of attacks throughout the year, killing both civilians and government security forces; Da’esh claimed responsibility for some of those attacks. A January 29 attack on a Shia mosque in al-Ahsa left five dead and 18 wounded. An April 28 attack on a police station, also in al-Ahsa, injured one police officer. On July 4, suicide bombers conducted apparently coordinated attacks in Medina, Qatif, and Jeddah. In Medina a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt outside of the Prophet’s mosque, killing four persons and wounding five. In Qatif three suicide bombers detonated explosives belts outside a mosque but did not harm anyone else in the incident. In Jeddah a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt near a foreign consulate in Jeddah, injuring two police officers.