Six men were pushed before the watching eyes of countless men, women, and children — they were thieves and murders, and they were set to be executed in public. The style of execution? Beheading.
One might expect such a scene from medieval England or ancient China, but this particular anecdote? Early June 2017 in Saudi Arabia.
Six men publicly executed in a single day — it brought the country’s death toll via capital punishment up to 44.
Saudi Arabia remains one of the most prolific users of capital punishment, and it is based on a literal interpretation of Sharia law integrated into the government. Sometimes this is followed up with a crucifixion of the headless body after the execution, as was seen recently during the controversy between the Middle Eastern country and Canada when a man accused of murder was beheaded and then hung on a cross.
Just behind China and Iran, Saudi Arabia takes third place in the number of death penalties carried out in the world, according to Amnesty International. In fact, they said that, “Excluding China, 84% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan.” Amnesty International also says that “the proceedings [which lead to the death penalty] did not meet international fair trial standards.” In 2017, they executed a recorded 146 people.
There are a number of crimes in Saudi Arabia that can get someone the death penalty, though they do not always get that far. These crimes include murder, atheism, treason, rape, drug smuggling, burglary, witchcraft, and sometimes adultery — this is not an all-inclusive list.
Homosexuality is also taught in many places in Saudi Arabia as being punishable by death. However, the punishment for this “crime” can range anywhere between prison time, lashings, fines — all the way up to death. In early 2017, two Pakistani transgender people were allegedly tortured and killed. This was after a police raid which wound up arresting 35 transgender people.
The country’s history is punctuated with instances of mass executions as well. In 2016, 43 people were beheaded on accounts of terrorism, and four were shot by a firing squad.
The extensive use of capital punishment has come under international criticism time and time again, not only because of the method, frequency, and charges under which they execute people (not to mention any international pushes to ban the death penalty outright) but also because of many specific cases that have come under question. Examples of this include political protesters or their notoriously vague definition of terrorism, which still warrants execution.