Saudi Arabia executed 81 men yesterday, including seven people from the neighboring country of Yemen, and one Syrian, for terrorism and other offenses including holding “deviant beliefs,” authorities said, in the biggest mass execution in at least a half century.
This is more executions in one day than the total number of executions that occurred in Saudi Arabia in prior years, such as 2021, when 67 executions took place, and 2020, when 27 executions were reported. “These individuals, totaling 81, were convicted of various crimes including murdering innocent men, women and children,” said the Saudi Interior Ministry.
“Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organizations, such as ISIS (Islamic State), al Qaeda and the Houthis.”
The Houthis are the anti-American militia that control most of Saudi Arabia’s neighbor Yemen, and periodically send missiles or drones into Saudi Arabia in retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s support for Yemen’s internationally-recognized government, which only controls the southern part of Yemen.
Some of the executed men traveled to war zones to join “terrorist organizations,” said the Interior Ministry. The men included 37 Saudi nationals who were found guilty in a single trial for trying to assassinate security officials and targeting police stations and military convoys.
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Saudi Arabia previously executed 63 people in a single day in 1980, a year after militants seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
And 47 people, including prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, were executed in a single day in 2016.
Human-rights groups have accused Saudi Arabia of enforcing harsh restrictions on political and religious expression, and criticized it for using the death penalty on defendants arrested when they were under age 18. Some Saudis are convicted after confessing to crimes while being tortured.
Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security while respecting due process. Saudi Arabia’s official news agency said the executed men had been convicted after being provided with the right to an attorney.