In 2008, Amnesty International reported a sharp increase in the number of executions in Saudi Arabia, with their number increasing from about 50 per year in the mid-1980’s to almost 150 in 2007.

Not all developments over that time period were negative. In 2001, Saudi Arabia responded to requests that it codify its penal law by enacting a criminal procedure code and other laws protecting the right to a fair trial. While this code does not fully protect defendants facing capital charges, it is a step forward regarding limitations on detention and at least formal recognition of the right to representation.

Saudi Arabia executed significantly fewer people in 2010 than in previous years. In fact, Capital Punishment U.K. reports that in 2010, Saudi Arabia executed 26 men for murder, rape or drugs offenses—a large drop in the number of executions and serious restriction of the scope of the death penalty compared to the several preceding years. Notably, in 2009, Saudi Arabia accepted the Human Rights Council’s recommendation that it protect the rights of individuals facing the death penalty, particularly regarding international safeguards. In that same year, Saudi Arabia ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which restricts application of the death penalty to the most serious offenses and provides for a non-derogable right to life, protection against arbitrary deprivation of life and prohibition against inhuman treatment. In 2009, Saudi Arabia also stated its acceptance of the Human Rights Council’s recommendation that it not apply the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles, albeit a month after beheading two men for crimes committed as juveniles and despite not commuting the death sentence of a maid who was convicted of a murder committed while under the age of 18.

While Saudi Arabia still retains the death penalty by stoning, we found no reports of executions by stoning over the past few years. Reported executions over the past few years have not been for crimes such as adultery. Executions for non-lethal offenses and for the non-violent offense of drug dealing or possession continue to be a concern in Saudi Arabia.

Recently, the Council of Senior Ulema (religious authorities) moved forward with a project to codify Shari’a penal law, with an aim to bringing clarity, uniformity and transparency to legal proceedings.


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