Saudi Arabia executed 37 men, most of them Shias, for terrorism-related crimes on the day (April 25) Sri Lanka began burying victims of church bombings.
The timing was not a coincidence. The Arabian kingdom wanted to tell the world that its young and progressive crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, above, has zero tolerance for Muslim radical groups.
However, the strategy backfired as Tuesday’s mass executions were condemned by human rights groups, the UN, EU and Britain.
After beheading 37 men, the body and severed head of Khaled bin Abdel Karim al-Tuwaijri were pinned to a pole until dusk as a warning to others.
One of those beheaded, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, was a minor when he was arrested and found guilty of terrorism-related charges for joining anti-government protests.
The official Saudi Press Agency said the 37 were beheaded for promoting extremist ideologies, setting up cells to corrupt young minds, destabilising security and causing sectarian strife.
The executions took place after midday prayers in central locations of Mecca, Medina, Riyadh and Qassim and Eastern provinces.
Amnesty International described the executions as a chilling demonstration of the Saudi authorities’ callous disregard for human life.
Saudi Arabia is using death penalty as a political weapon to crush dissent within the Shia minority living there. ‘Sham trials’ are conducted and confessions are extracted from the accused through torture, Amnesty said.
Of the 37 beheaded on Tuesday, 11 were convicted of spying for Iran and 14 for participating in anti-government protests in the Eastern province eight years ago.
Rights groups are concerned as the assertive crown prince has imprisoned dissident clerics, academics, businessmen, princes and women’s rights activists.
Last year, several women were detained for demanding the right to drive and an end to the male guardianship system.
This year, 104 people have been executed till date.
Tuesday’s mass execution is the first in Saudi Arabia’s history. In 2016, 47 men, including a Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, were executed over attacks on security forces in the Eastern province.
Condemning the latest executions, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Saudi Arabia to review its counter-terrorism legislation and ban death penalty for minors.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the executions raised serious doubts about trials in Saudi Arabia and heightened fears of potential sectarian violence.
Britain said the executions are repulsive and unacceptable in the modern world.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said one of those executed was displayed on a cross just two days after Easter.
Treasury minister Liz Truss wanted UK to review its policy towards Saudi Arabia in the light of the executions.