Why Did Saudi Arabia Execute 37 Men?

On April 23, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that it had executed 37 men, some of whom were minors when they were arrested. These individuals had been sentenced to death for terrorism-related crimes.

Six months ago, journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a well-known critic of the Saudi government — was brutally murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. 

What’s going on in Saudi Arabia, and why is the country pursuing such a strong response to internal dissent? 

Lynn Malouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International, explained:

Today’s mass execution is a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities callous disregard for human life. It is also yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent within the country’s Shi’a minority.

According to the Saudi Arabian state-run news agency, the men were executed for “their adoption of extremist, terrorist ideology and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord.”

However, the reality is that these men were mostly young activists, professionals and religious scholars from the Shiite Muslim minority of Saudi Arabia. The Shiites make up between 10 and 15 percent of the 33 million people living in the country, and they’ve been increasingly marginalized as they struggle for equality with the Sunni majority.

The accusations against the men were very vague, and there’s no independent judiciary in Saudi Arabia, no open courts and very limited access to lawyers. The men were convicted after sham trials that entirely ignored international fair trial standards, and used torture to extract confessions of guilt, according to Amnesty International.

Student Beheaded in Saudi Arabia Was Slated to Attend Western Michigan University

Here’s the account of just one of these men. Mujtaba al-Sweikat was detained at King Fahd airport in 2012, when he was just 17. Al-Sweikat was intending to visit Western Michigan University, where he had been accepted as a student. Earlier that year he had attended a pro-democracy rally, where he was arrested.

Al-Sweikat was severely beaten while in custody and kept in solitary confinement. In August 2015, he was brought to court, denied access to a lawyer and convicted based on a “confession” extracted under torture. In June 2016, he was sentenced to death. And despite multiple communications from the United Nations on his behalf, al-Sweikat was beheaded on April 23, 2019.

Saudi Arabia has often indulged in execution sprees, and the country has no regard for international law or opinion. So far this year, 105 people have been murdered by government decree. Last year 148 people were executed.

The executions carried out on April 23 happened in cities around the country, and one of the men had his body crucified after he was killed to deter would-be criminals, according to Saudi officials.

Saudi Arabia and Iran Are Fighting for Dominance in The Middle East

According to Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi Arabian professor of social anthropology and visiting professor at the U.K.’s London School of Economics, we need to look at the political context in which these executions are taking place to understand why they are happening.

Speaking on “The Takeaway,” she explained:

Iran and Saudi Arabia are entering a fierce struggle over hegemony in the Middle East.

She went on to say that there has been “A serious deterioration in the relationship between the two countries which had already been bad since the 1970s after the Iranian revolution. This execution is only going to make the relationship even more tense.”

A brief reminder: One of the oldest religious divides in the world is between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite sides of this divide. Around 80 percent of Muslim countries worldwide are predominantly Sunni, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. But Shiite Muslims dominate in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

So it comes as no surprise that the majority of the men executed were members of the Saudi Shiite minority.

In the fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran for dominance in the Middle East, the U.S. has aligned itself with Saudi Arabia because the country has major purchasing power and buys U.S. weapons. 

Take Action!

The U.S. is better than this. We must condemn Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for these horrendous executions. If you agree, please sign my petition demanding that the Trump administration condemn these horrific acts and stop supporting Saudi Arabia.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo Credit: Archive: U.S. Secretary of Defense/Flickr


Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 days ago

injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Paulo Reeson
Paulo Reeson7 days ago

what a terrible country.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson11 days ago

Thank you.

Colin Clauscen
Colin Clauscen13 days ago

Horrible country never want to go there

S M14 days ago

KSA must be removed from the UN Human Rights Council. It was an insult to HR that they given a place on Council anyway. USA and U.K. that worked hard to get them on Council were amoral for that.

Graham P
Graham P15 days ago

Please do not consider visiting this awful country unless you have too.

Linda Wallace
Linda Wallace16 days ago


Toni W
Toni W16 days ago


Toni W
Toni W16 days ago


Paul Carter
Paul Carter16 days ago

The problem with the leaders of the major Islamic nations is they are like the monarchs of Europe 500 years ago. That was when the King of Catholic Spain saw it as a religious duty to invade Protestant England. Hopefully it will take less time for them to realize there are far bigger problems in this world than it did the West, but I doubt it.