Hypocrisy: Saudi's ‘Al-Arabiya’ Slams Iran’s Use of Death Penalty

Published October 10th, 2017 - 02:06 GMT
A man is executed in Iran (file photo)
A man is executed in Iran (file photo)
  • Saudi Al-Arabiya marked World Day Against the Death Penalty with a piece condemning executions in Iran
  • The article does not mention that Saudi Arabia is one of the countries where the death penalty is most used
  • In fact the two regional opponents resemble each other more than they admit on many rights issues
  • Rights groups have condemned both for their executions of dissidents and non-violent criminals


On World Day Against the Death Penalty, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya has published a piece in English slamming Iran’s use of capital punishment.

Executions in Iran are, of course, reprehensible. Human Rights Watch estimates over 400 individuals were killed this way in 2016.

HRW has criticized the punishment of non-violent crimes, including apostasy and homosexuality, with death. Perhaps most despicable is the continued execution of children, including at least one 17-year-old in 2017.

What the article fails to mention, however, is Saudi Arabia’s own widespread and internationally condemned implementation of the death penalty.

When writer Reza Shafiee refers to “citizens of countries with governments fixated with executing the cruel and inhuman punishment”, she does not go on to explain that Saudis are among them.

In fact, it was announced last week that the ultra-conservative kingdom had carried out its hundreth execution of this year so far.

“Since July, the Saudi Arabian government has been on an execution spree with an average of five people put to death per week”, said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The Saudi authorities have been using the death penalty as a tool to crush dissent and rein in minorities with callous disregard for human life,” she continued. 

Her words could have been lifted from the al-Arabiya report on Iran, which describes that “for Iran’s rulers, [the death penalty] is not just a mere form of punishment. It is an instrument of spreading fear among the citizens.”

The piece continues: “Execution is a means to an end. It is only used to keep in check the fed up citizens, it is a reminder that dissidence will have dire consequences.”

Saudi and Iran: united by rights abuses

A focus of the al-Arabiya article is on criticizing the execution of drug offenders in Iran, which government authorities indicate made up the majority of those killed in 2016.

Yet in Saudi Arabia too 40 percent of those executed this year were convicted of involvement in drug trafficking, according to Amnesty. Added to that, UK-based rights group Reprieve reports that 72 percent of those currently on death row in the Arab Gulf state were sentenced for nonviolent crimes.

Methods of execution in Saudi Arabia include beheading, crucifixion (beheading followed by public display of the body), firing squad and stoning. In Iran, most are hanged, but firing squad and stoning also remain permissible.

Amnesty, which campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, called on Saudi Arabia earlier this year to abandon its “bloody execution spree”.

In particular, the case of 14 Shia protesters sentenced to death has drawn international condemnation.

Convicted in what Amnesty described as a “grossly unfair mass trial” last June, the men have alleged their confessions were obtained through torture.

Reprieve gained over 36,000 signatures for its petition calling on King Salman to halt the executions, while ten Nobel laureates penned an open letter urging the Saudi king to "extend the hand of mercy"  in August.

Like in Iran, there are widespread reports of individuals in Saudi Arabia being sentenced to death while still under the age of 18.

Among them, Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, who was just 15 years old in 2012 when he was handed a death sentence for participating in anti-government protests. Several of the 14 Shia protesters are also thought to be underage.


Why, on World Day Against the Death Penalty, did a Saudi-funded channel focus entirely on Iran’s execution practices?

That question may partly answer itself. Al-Arabiya closely follows the official Saudi line - and that includes in seeking to blast arch foe Iran at every possibility.

What is perhaps more interesting is that the author of the piece is herself an Iranian. Reza Shafiee is a member of the Iranian opposition group the MEK, sitting on a committee of its political branch, the NCRI.

MEK is designated a terrorist organization by Iran and Iraq and, until fairly recently, it was also considered as such by the U.S. and E.U.

The group, despite enjoying support from a number of Western politicians, is thought to draw little enthusiasm in Iran itself, where other opposition organizations have more sway.

After executing at least 2000 people in 30 years, Saudi Arabia is placed in the top five countries for the death penalty, along with its rival Iran. 

While Al-Arabiya's headline reads “Iranian regime’s reality check on the World Day against Death Penalty”, perhaps it is the Saudi site that needs a wake up call to the rights abuses of its own nation’s leadership.

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