Saudi Arabia: Quash death sentence for Jordanian convicted of drug offences, urge UN experts

A bird's eye view of the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Unsplash/Stijn te Strake
A bird's eye view of the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
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“Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the ‘most serious crimes’, involving intentional killing”, the UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts said in a statement, continuing to urge the Saudi Government to “abolish the death penalty for drug convictions”. 

Hussein Abo al-Kheir was arrested at the Saudi border in 2014 while driving across from Jordan.  

Under the 2005 Law on Control of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances, he was sentenced to death for alleged drug trafficking in 2015. 

Use of force  

If Mr. Abo-al-Kheir’s execution is carried out, he would be the 21st person to be executed in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of November.  

The experts said that while in pre-trial detention, he was reportedly tortured, held incommunicado, forcibly disappeared and eventually coerced into signing a false confession.  

Moreover, he was allegedly denied legal counsel and access to consular information after his arrest. 

Although Mr. Abo al-Kheir's allegations of torture during his detention in Tabouk Central Prison since 2015 were reportedly not investigated, he has apparently been denied medical assistance despite deteriorating mental and physical health and near-blindness, the experts said.  

“The use of evidence and confessions extracted under torture serving to convict individuals on death row, not only violates the prohibition against torture but is also in conflict with the right to fair trial under international law”, underscored the experts.  

‘Discriminatory treatment’ 

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Abo al-Kheir to be arbitrary and without legal basis and has called for his release. 

Last Friday, he was told that he would be transferred to a “death cell” in Tabouk Central Prison. 

Since 10 November, 20 individuals, including 12 foreign nationals, have been executed by Saudi authorities.  

“We are concerned that a disproportionate number of those being sentenced to death for drug-related offences are migrants”, the experts said.  

“The practice amounts to discriminatory treatment of non-nationals.” 

The experts said they were alarmed that executions happen without warning and are only confirmed after they take place in Saudi Arabia.  

“The failure to provide individuals on death row timely notification about the date of their execution constitutes a form of ill-treatment”, they said. 

Right to life 

Alarmed also by Saudi Arabia’s decision to end its 21-month unofficial moratorium, the experts said that any measures to abolish the death penalty should be seen as progress towards the realization of the right to life.  

By extension, the resumption of executions results in less protection of the right to life. 

“We respectfully reiterate our call to the Government of Saudi Arabia to consider establishing an official moratorium on all executions with a view to fully abolish the death penalty and to commute the death sentences of individuals on death row for drug offences to imprisonment consistent with international human rights law”, the UN experts said. 

The experts 

Click here for the names of those who participated in the statement. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work. 

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