Infamous for discrimination against religious minorities, mainly the Shiites, Al Saudi in recent days executed a number of Shiites citizens, restoring fears about a new round of pressures, arrests, and executions among the Saudi kingdom’s Shiite community.
On Monday, the Saudi Interior Ministry reported execution of three young men from Shiite-majority Qatif city east of the country. The ministry claimed the charge of these three young men was training on working with weapons and making bombs in a camp outside the country belonging to one of the anti-Saudi Arabia groups. But opposition sources rejected the charges, saying that they were politically-motivated.
The government accused the three young men of storing arms and smuggling out of the country wanted people. The ministry also on Tuesday reported execution of a Shiite young man from predominantly Shiite Eastern Province under accusation of spying for a “hostile country.”
Run with an absolute despotism, Saudi Arabia has always used terrorism label to eliminate dissenters, something making the international rights organizations question credibility of the government claims.
The east of the country is mainly Shiite, and its people are generally arrested and tried on political grounds. This region, where most of the oil resources of Saudi Arabia are located, is very important for the Saudi rulers and they have always tried to keep the Shiites under control.
Though Saudi Shiite leaders have never supported armed uprising against the government in pursuit of their rights and elimination of discrimination and majorly stressed on civil struggle, many argue that the creeping of the Wahhabi thought in the political and social body and also in the government has fed a repressive approach to the legitimate demands of the Shiites. The Wahhabi thought deems the Shiites “rejectionists” and infidels whose blood is legitimate to shed. With these radical beliefs of Wahhabism, hundreds of innocent Shiites were executed in the Arab kingdom.
According to reports, imprisonment, systematic tortures, cruel arrests and illegal trials are part of the current routine of the Saudi government’s approach towards Shiite citizens, which usually end with public executions in the streets and burying bodies in unspecified group cemeteries.
These executions are growing so massive that even Western rights groups are crying out. The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) in a statement published on Tuesday reiterated concerns about repeated execution of people detained for charges related to freedom of expression, adding that these executions give away the incredibility of the Saudi officials’ claims about restriction of execution to highly dangerous crimes. The statement said that execution of four people for issues related to freedom of expression doubled the concerns.
Bad conditions of the Shiites in Saudi Arabia
Since the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011, the Shiites in Saudi Arabia started their struggle to get rid of the despotic rule in the country. But the government repressed their protests with utmost violence to stabilize the shaky foundations of its rule. It arrested hundreds of the Shiites, executing some of them and sentencing to long-term in jail some others.
Although Shiites are citizens of Saudi Arabia, they are considered third-class citizens in the government’s point of view and are even deprived of many basic citizenship rights due to systematic discrimination. They are rarely employed in official jobs, and the opportunities for employment in such institutions as the police and army, security forces, municipality, academic positions, or even simple vice principal of a school are very limited for Shiites, and even if a Shiite works in such institutions, their promotion prospects will be very limited. Also, Shiites are prohibited from entering at least 50 percent of Saudi universities, and they are denied the right to testify in courts, and there are no Shiite judges, and such political and social discrimination has marginalized them.
Though Shiites account for 15 percent of the population, they are looked at by the government as the biggest threat to national security and government, something making a large number of those arrested or executed from Shiite citizens. Censorship and lack of transparency make number of the Shiite prisoners and executed people shrouded in mystery. However, estimates by the rights groups suggest that hundreds of below 18 Shiite youths have been sentenced to death for false pretenses. Even bellow-10 are among these people, signaling that Al Saud are even afraid of Shiite children.
Terrible Saudi record of execution
The anti-Shiite approach is a source of high record of execution of opposition globally. The country ranked second after Egypt in 2021. Observers hold that Riyadh record of extrajudicial torture and execution and also cruel arrest of people and their disappearance make international organizations name Saudi Arabia the worst country in human rights. Despite massive criticisms of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, the rulers of Al Saud continue the process of executions regardless of these international pressures, and even at times, Shiites have become victims of the government’s score settling with rival countries.
Only in 2021, the government executed 100 people, most of whom Shiites, for various offenses, drawing international criticism. European Saudi Organization for Human Rights in a report announced that in the first half of 2022, the record of executions in Saudi Arabia reached the pre-Coronavirus numbers and is moving beyond 2019 rate of 186 executions. According to this report, the country from January to June 2022 executed 120, showing a 80 percent rise compared to the total number in 2021.
According to Saudi law, the death penalty is applicable to such crimes as murder, drugs, apostasy, witchcraft and terrorism. Since there are no codified laws in the judicial structure of Saudi Arabia, there is no fair trial, and the judges issue their verdicts based on their specific interpretations of the Sharia law, which is a complete combination of Wahhabi teachings. Although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to cleanse the political structure and the government of Wahhabi thoughts to a certain extent in line with his reformist policies, when it comes to the Shiites and definition of the threats to national security, the ideological aspects of Wahhabism still dominates the judiciary.
The new round of execution of the Shiites raises questions: Why is Al Saudi taking these escalatory measures despite détente agreement with Iran and region’s movement to stability? Do they mean that bin Salman is sending signals of warnings to the opposition and inflexibility to the growing political and legal expectation of the society, or are these measures a sign showing that Riyadh will not be affected by the regional de-escalation that require it to introduce some changes to its policies especially concerning the Shiites? Either way, what is certain is that continuation of crackdown on the Shiites proves that they are off the circle of bin Saman’s reforms and cannot hope for tangible change in their status.