Saudi Arabia beheaded 37 of its citizens on Tuesday, in the largest mass execution the country has carried out since 2016. One man was pinned to a pole in public after being beheaded, his body shown as a warning to others.
The country said that Shi’a religious leader Shiekh Mohammed al-Attiyah was among those executed on terrorism-related charges.
Among the charges against him were that he tried to form a sectarian group in the western city of Jidda, an AP report published in the LA Times said.
According to Ali Ahmed, who runs the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C., the sheikh spoke publicly of the need to work closely with Saudi Arabia’s Sunni majority. Ahmed also said that 34 of those executed were of the Shi’a Muslim faith, according to a list of names announced by the Interior Ministry.
Amnesty International said that the majority of those convicted were given “sham trials” that relied on confessions extracted through torture.
In 2016, the kingdom executed 47 people over what it called terrorism-related crimes, which was the largest mass execution the state had carried out since 1980. In 1980, only four of those executed were of the Shi’a faith.
Both the 2016 executions and Tuesday’s executions were ratified by royal decree from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the report said.
Saudi Arabia is a strategic U.S. ally in the Middle East built on common goals in the region, including oil and military interests.
According to Lydia Dennett, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, the kingdom spent close to $9 million lobbying the U.S. in 2018.
“The Kingdom has a veritable army of lobbyists and PR firms working to promote their interests in a wide variety of ways,” she said.
Aspiring Michigan college student among those beheaded
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) called out Salman on Twitter in the early hours of Wednesday morning for allegedly torturing and executing children, and accusing him of torturing teenagers into false confessions.
Tlaib was responding to a news story about Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was supposed to attend Western Michigan University but was arrested for taking part in pro-Democracy rallies in 2012 at age 17, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Al-Sweikat was among those killed during the executions after being charged with armed disobedience against the king as well as attacking, shooting and injuring security forces, civilians and passersby.
“Saudi Arabia ruler MBS tortures & executes children,” Tlaib wrote. “Already this year, he has killed 100 people. At least three today were arrested as teenagers & tortured into false confessions. He killed them for attending protests!”