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Saudi Arabia: The land of rising beheadings

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No nodding anymore

By Gaurav Sharma

A report by human rights organization Amnesty International has revealed the alarming rate at which beheadings are being carried out in the Middle-eastern kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The report claims that the Islamic nation executed 175 people last year, an expeditious rate of one beheading every day. The 102 people killed so far in 2015 puts Saudi Arabia on course to beat its 1995 record of 192 beheadings.

In total, Saudi Arabia has executed 2,208 people since 1985, of which nearly 49 percent were foreign nationals. Among those slaughtered have been children below the age of 18 and disabled persons as well.

According to the report, the surge in the government killings began in August last year and has further escalated under the rule of King Salman from January this year.

The report attributes the discrimination of law to a combination of xenophobic pressure by the Saudi government and the inability of foreigners to understand Arabic language.

Among the offences which invited the death penalty were minor drug-related accidents, other crimes not considered as ‘serious’ or even illegal such as adultery, sorcery, witchcraft and ‘apostasy’.

“The Saudi justice system which authorized the killings is deeply-flawed. Not only is the death penalty a horrendous punishment, it is particularly deplorable when applied dictatorially”, says Boumedouha, Amnesty’s acting Middle East director.

The method used to execute convicted prisoners was usually beheading but some people were also killed by a firing squad, the report noted. Also adding weight to the gruesome nature of the justice system in Saudi Arabia, is the fact that most executions were carried out in public spaces.

“The remains of those executed were displayed in public to act as a deterrent. The decapitated corpse along with the severed head were posted in a public square, typically in cases of haraba or banditry”, the report quoted.

Furthermore, the report highlighted the sentence and conviction of 15-16 year-old Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, a teenage who was executed largely under evidence of signed confessions, something that the boy said were taken under duress.

The case of an Indonesian mother accused of killing her employer was also unearthed. Despite evidence of mental illness, Siti Zainab Binti Duhri Rupa was forced to confess in 1999. Right to trial and legal representation were denied to the woman all through her ordeal.

The report titled ‘Killing in the Name of Justice’: The Death Penalty in Saudi Arabia was compiled through interviews with families of those slayed.

Saudi Arabia now lags only behind China and Iran in the Amnesty study of the top countries in the number of executions carried out last year.

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Visas Of Saudi Officials Revokes By The USA Following The Khashoggi Killing

Khashoggi had gone to the consulate to get documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Turkish national Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside in vain for his return.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington. VOA

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the United States had “identified at least some” of the Saudi officials involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and was revoking their visas.

“These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable,” Pompeo said. “We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence.”

The visa revocations were the first punitive actions the U.S. has taken against Saudi Arabia since news broke of Khashoggi’s disappearance on Oct. 2.

Pompeo, who made the announcement at the State Department, did not say who or how many Saudi officials would have their visas revoked. Saudi Arabia on Saturday announced it had already arrested 18 Saudis and fired several top intelligence officials in connection with Khashoggi’s death.

The secretary also said the U.S. was considering taking action, such as imposing financial sanctions, under the Magnitsky Act. That law was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison after he reported tax fraud involving government officials; it was aimed at punishing officials responsible for his death.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey. VOA

Earlier Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke for the first time about the Khashoggi case, saying the journalist was “murdered in a ferocious manner,” and contending that Saudi Arabia carried out the killing in its Istanbul consulate in a premeditated plot. He dismissed Riyadh’s claim that “rogue agents” were responsible.

“All evidence gathered shows that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a savage murder,” Erdogan told the Turkish parliament in Ankara. “To cover up such savagery would hurt the human conscience.”

The Turkish leader said “to blame such an incident on a handful of security and intelligence members would not satisfy us or the international community.”

Erdogan demanded that whoever ordered the killing of Khashoggi “be brought to account,” and that the 18 officials already arrested by Saudi Arabia in connection with the killing stand trial in Istanbul.

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U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey during a bill-signing ceremony at the White House in Washington. VOA

In Washington, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Saudi authorities had staged “one of the worst cover-ups” in history with their response to the killing of Khashoggi, 59, a U.S.-based Saudi dissident.

“They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

When a reporter asked Trump if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader, should be held accountable, Trump said, “I spoke with the crown prince yesterday, and he strongly said he had nothing to do with this — it was at a lower level.”

Vice President Mike Pence said Erdogan’s assessment of the killing “underscores the determination” of the Trump administration “to find out what happened. The word from President Erdogan this morning that this brutal murder was premeditated, preplanned days in advance, flies in the face of earlier assertions that had been made by the Saudi regime.”

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Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. VOA

“The world is watching,” Pence said at an event at The Washington Post, where Khashoggi wrote opinion columns that were critical of the Saudi crown prince. “The American people want answers, and we will demand that those answers are forthcoming.”

Erdogan told Turkish lawmakers that “Saudi Arabia has taken an important step by admitting the murder. As of now, we expect of them to openly bring to light those responsible, from the highest ranked to the lowest, and to bring them to justice.” The Turkish president described Khashoggi’s death as a “murder” 15 times in his speech.

Erdogan never mentioned Salman in his speech and did not play an audio recording of the killing that news accounts have cited.

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This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Oct. 9, 2018 claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. VOA

Erdogan gave new details surrounding the killing — which involved 15 Saudi agents who started arriving in Turkey on Oct. 1, the day before Khashoggi was killed — while largely confirming earlier news accounts of Khashoggi’s disappearance, including that Saudi agents deployed a body double with Khashoggi’s clothes, glasses and beard to walk out of the consulate to make it appear as if he had left the diplomatic outpost alive.

The Turkish president said that on Oct. 1, a team of Saudi consular staff scouted out two separate locations in a forest outside Istanbul and at Yalova, 90 kilometers south of the city. Turkish authorities have searched the locations, theorizing that Khashoggi’s remains might have been disposed of there, but have not found his body. Erdogan said Saudi agents removed the hard drive from the consulate’s surveillance system.

Saudi officials at first said that Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate and that they did not know his whereabouts. Then they said he died in a fistfight in the consulate. Most recently, the Saudis said Khashoggi was killed in a chokehold when he tried to leave the consulate to call for help.

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Turkish police crime scene investigators leave an underground car park, after looking for possible clues into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on a vehicle belonging to the Saudi Consulate found by authorities a day earlier, in Istanbul. VOA

“When the murder is so clear,” Erdogan said, “why were so many inconsistent statements made? Why is the body of a person who has officially been accepted as killed still not around?”

Khashoggi had gone to the consulate to get documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Turkish national Hatice Cengiz, who waited outside in vain for his return.

The Turkish leader stressed the need for his police and intelligence services to conduct a thorough probe, both to avoid falsely accusing anyone and to fulfill a responsibility to the international community.

Also Read: Silicon Valley Reconsiders Its Decision to Invest in Saudi Arabia

Since Saudi accounts said a “local collaborator” had disposed of Khashoggi’s remains, Erdogan said, “I am now asking: Who is this local collaborator?”

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel was in Turkey to confer with Turkish officials about their investigation. (VOA)