Saudi Arabia has been accused of using the World Cup as a diversion after it beheaded 12 people in the past 14 days despite a promise not to use the death penalty.
The series of executions were punishments for drug offences, although the country implemented a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for non-violent crimes in 2021.
Meanwhile, Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the opening ceremony of the World Cup on Sunday, sitting next to FIFA chief Gianni Infantino.
Saudi Arabia’s leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks as he welcomes the Saudi Arabian soccer team ahead of their participation in the World Cup in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2022.
The Saudi crown prince (pictured, far right) chats with FIFA chief Gianni Infantino at the opening ceremony in Doha on Sunday night.
The human rights charity Reprieve highlighted the case of a taxi driver facing imminent execution in a Saudi prison, whose sister turned to former English star Alan Shearer for help last year.
Zeinab Abo al-Kheir wrote to the television commentator after he said he wanted to “hear the evidence about human rights abuses” in the desert kingdom following Saudi Arabia’s takeover of his former club Newcastle United.
His brother, Hussein, a father of eight children, was sentenced to death after amphetamine pills were found hidden in his fuel tank at a border checkpoint.
But activists claim that he confessed under torture and that the drugs had been planted in his car while the vehicle was parked in front of his home in Jordan.
Reprieve’s director, Maya Foa, accused Saudi Arabia of carrying out the beheadings while the world’s attention was focused on the World Cup in Doha.
‘As Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) took center stage at the World Cup opening ceremony, seated next to FIFA supremo Gianni Infantino, taxi driver Hussein Abo al-Kheir huddled in a cell, terrified of let the executioner take him away afterwards.
“While all eyes are on football, Saudi Arabia is carrying out a wave of gruesome executions, killing the likes of Hussein, an innocent man who was tortured by Saudi police into ‘confessing’.
Zeinab Abu al-Kheir’s brother, Hussein, was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2014, fearing he could be executed soon.
‘Qatar has rightly been criticized for its human rights record, but its abuses pale in comparison to the Gulf megastate next door.
“Saudi Arabia executed more people than ever before in the first six months of this year, and now it has begun executing drug-related criminals, in large numbers and in secret, as the world focuses on its neighbor.
“The Kingdom’s international partners must act now, to save Hussein and stop the bloodshed.”
If carried out, Hussein’s execution would be the 13th after the beheadings of three Pakistani men, four Syrians, two Jordanians and three Saudis.
The number of people executed by Saudi Arabia this year is at least 138, more than the totals for 2020 and 2021 combined.
Zeinab Abu al-Kheir, the sister of a taxi driver sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, asked former England striker Alan Shearer (pictured) to help save her brother’s life.
This includes 81 sentenced to death in a single day in March, many of whom were political prisoners detained in the crackdown on minority Shiite demonstrations in the Eastern Province.
The high number of executions has taken place despite MBS committing to ‘minimize’ capital punishment, with only those guilty of murder or manslaughter to be sentenced to death.
Ms Foa added: ‘Mohammed bin Salman has repeatedly touted his vision of progress, pledging to reduce executions and end the death penalty for drug offences.
“But as a bloody year of executions draws to a close, the Saudi authorities have begun executing drug-related offenders again, in large numbers and in secret.”
The prince has previously backtracked on other policies, such as women’s rights.
Despite introducing looser restrictions for women in the ultra-conservative nation, including allowing them to join the military, he has also been behind the jailing of women’s rights activists.