Calling on international bodies to condemn drug executions in Saudi Arabia and seek to stop them


By European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, on 1 December 2022

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights and Harm Reduction International, and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty along with 32 other NGOs have called on the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to act on urgent measures in response to the series of drug-related executions carried out by the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia since November 10, 2022.

The organisations called on both sides to seek confirmation from the Saudi government of the status of dozens of people on death row and at imminent risk of execution and to demand that the Saudi government immediately halt all drug-related executions.

The letter clarified that since January 2020, Saudi Arabia had halted executions for drug-related offences. In January 2021, the head of the Human Rights Commission, Awwad Al-Awwad, announced that the suspension of these sentences aims to give a second chance to individuals who are not facing violent charges. However, on November 10, 2022, Saudi Arabia suddenly and without warning resumed executions for drug-related offences. On November 24, it announced 20 executions for drug offences. According to data from the Saudi Ministry of Interior, all the victims are men: 8 Saudis, 5 Syrians, 3 Pakistanis, 2 Nigerians, and 2 Jordanians.

The letter highlighted that the Saudi government’s handling of the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy, as it does not publish the number of individuals facing punishment, their names, or their legal status. Despite this, ESOHR tracking confirms that scores of detainees are on death row for drug offences, especially from foreign sponsors (including migrant workers) and individuals from vulnerable socioeconomic backgrounds.

The organisations explained that the resumption of executions puts dozens of people at risk of imminent execution, including the Jordanian citizen Hussein Abu al-Khair, who was arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to death and could be executed at any moment without prior warning. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention confirmed that there was no legal basis for Abu al-Khair’s detention and called for his immediate release.

The letter indicated that the monitoring of ESOHR confirmed the lack of basic standards for a fair trial in drug cases. In addition to torture and ill-treatment, detainees are deprived of their most fundamental rights like the right to self-defence and the right to obtain an interpreter when needed.

The letter indicated that internationally, 146 countries, including 20 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have abolished the death penalty. But Saudi Arabia is still one of the largest executors in the world.

The organisations stressed that the sudden resumption of executions for drug crimes is a very worrying indicator, as it will lead to an unprecedented increase in executions in the country, especially after 147 implemented sentences since the beginning of 2022.

The organisations considered that the appeal ignores promises previously made by high-ranking officials. In addition to the announcement of the official Human Rights Commission, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had said more than once that there were efforts to limit the use of this punishment. The last statement was in March 2022, when he claimed that the use of the death penalty has become limited to homicide cases.

The letter stressed that international standards affirm that drug crimes are not among the most serious and that the death penalty based on them contradicts the standards of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board.

On November 22, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Saudi government to halt the imminent execution of Abu al-Khair and called on the Saudi authorities to adopt an official moratorium on executions for drug-related offences, commute death sentences for drug-related offences, and guarantee the right to a fair trial for all defendants. Including those accused of committing such crimes, in line with the law and its international obligations.

The organisations indicated that in light of this unexpected development, and given the imminent risk of execution facing dozens of individuals on death row, they call on the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to:

  • Call on Saudi Arabia to abide by its commitment to stop executions for drug crimes
  • Engage with the Saudi authorities to obtain a commitment to restore the endowment
  • Engage with the Saudi authorities with a view to obtaining a commitment to restore the endowment
  • Review the sentences issued against all individuals sentenced to death for drug crimes
  • Request assurances that Abu al-Khair will not be executed and will be immediately released by the recommendations of the Working Group

The signatories:

1 – Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre on Human Rights in Iran 2 – Acción Técnica social 3 – Al-Qst 4 – Andean Action 5 – Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) 6 – Bahrain Centre against Torture 7 – Capital Punishment Justice Project 8 – Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign 9 – Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network 10 – Drug Policy Alliance 11 – Eleos Justice, Monash University 12 – Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM) 13 – European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) 14 – Harm Reduction Australia 15 – Harm Reduction International (HRI) 16 – Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights 17 – HIV Legal Network 18 – Instituto Ria 19 – Intercambios Civil Association 20 – International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) 21 – Latinoamérica Reforma 22 – Lawyers Collective 23 – LBH Masyarakat 24 – Medicines du Monde 25 – World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 26 – Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS) 27 – Release 28 – Reprieve 29 – Rights Reporter Foundation 30 – Safer Drug Policies Norway 31 – Salam for Democracy and Human Rights 32 – SSDP International 33 – Stella, l’amie de Maimie 34 – Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN) 35 – World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

Attached documents


2018 Death Penalty report: Saudi Arabia’s False Promise

By European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, on 1 January 2019


NGO report

More details See the document

The European Saudi organisation for Humans Rights published its 2018 report on the use of the death penalty in the Saudi Kingdom. It points an authoriatiran drift within the increase of the political use of the capital sentence against activists, women and clerics.

  • Document type NGO report
  • Themes list Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Arbitrariness, Death Penalty,

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