Saudi Firing Squad Publicly Executes Seven

A Saudi firing squad on Wednesday publicly executed seven men convicted of armed robbery, the interior ministry announced.

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Saudi executioner
Saudi executioner
AFP file

A Saudi firing squad on Wednesday publicly executed seven men convicted of armed robbery, the interior ministry announced.

The condemned men were convicted of "forming a gang that carried out several armed robberies and thefts with the help of other people," the ministry said in a statement published by the official SPA news agency.

They were executed "as a punishment to them and to deter others" from carrying out similar crimes, according to SPA.

A witness told the AFP news agency that "the execution was "implemented a while ago at a public square in Abha," adding that the defendants were "shot dead" and not beheaded as is customary in the kingdom.

The announcement came soon after Amnesty International released a statement renewing calls on the Saudi authorities to halt the executions, which they described as "sheer brutality."

The seven men -- Sarhan Al Mashaikh, Saeed Al Zahrani, Ali Al Shahri, Nasser Al Qahtani, Saeed Al Shahrani, Abdulaziz Al Amri and Ali Al Qahtani -- were charged with organizing a criminal group, armed robbery and raiding and breaking into jewelry stores in 2005, and sentenced to death in 2009.

International rights groups had protested that the men -- now aged between 20 to 24 years old according to news website -- were condemned for crimes committed when they were juveniles.

"It is a bloody day when a government executes seven people on the grounds of 'confessions' obtained under torture, submitted at a trial where they had no legal representation or recourse to appeal," said Amnesty's MENA director Philip Luther.

They claimed their relatives were also "threatened with torture if they withdrew their 'confessions'," according to Amnesty.

They had been scheduled to die on March 5, but their executions were postponed for a week.

Three UN human rights experts on Tuesday had also urged Saudi Arabia to halt the executions, saying the case had breached international standards of justice.

In a joint statement, the United Nations monitors said the men had allegedly been convicted on the basis of trumped-up charges and flawed trials.

Executions in Saudi Arabia, which applies a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law, are generally carried out by beheading, however media reports said authorities were considering using firing squads due to a shortage of executioners.

Local Al-Yawm daily reported that the kingdom has formed a specialized committee to study the "possibility of replacing beheadings by the sword with firing squads as this is not against sharia (Islamic law)."

This is due to "the lack of beheaders who may sometimes take long to arrive at the execution site from other regions causing confusion," it said.

In 2012, the kingdom executed 76 people, according to an AFP tally based on official figures, while the US-based Human Rights Watch put the number at 69.