In Saudi Arabia, 37 prisoners were executed by beheading on April 23. Most of those killed belonged to the Shia Muslim community, a minority in the kingdom. All were men.
According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 14 of those executed were arrested after joining anti-government protests. Both groups say the men were forced to confess to “protest-related crimes” after being tortured, and that they later sought to retract their confessions in court, as they were given under duress. They were nevertheless sentenced to death.
Lynn Maalouf, who serves as Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, called the executions “another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shi’a minority.”
Just a few days prior, three Saudi bloggers were arrested as part of an ongoing crackdown on journalists and activists that drew headlines in October 2018 with the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
Authorities haven’t publicly stated why they’ve detained Naif al-Hindas, Ali al-Saffar and Redha al-Boori, who have not been active as writers for some time. In 2015, Al-Saffar and al-Boori had written about regional security issues, and Al-Hindas wrote about philosophy, feminism, and other cultural and political topics up until mid-2018.
As of December 1, 2018, there were at least 16 journalists in prison in Saudi Arabia. All told, these legal cases and executions demonstrate the extreme measures the Saudi government is willing to take in order to prevent criticism and legitimate media work in the kingdom.