A man jailed for drug offenses in Saudi Arabia fears he has “gone to the sword,” his sister said, after the regime abandoned its alleged “moratorium” on executing people jailed for such crimes.
Hussain Abu al-Khair was arrested in 2014 as he drove his taxi across the border from his native Jordan after border officials allegedly found 200,000 captagon pills – a commonly used stimulant in the Middle East – in his vehicle.
The father-of-eight was reportedly taken to a black site for 13 days and tortured into falsely confessing to the crime, in which rights groups say he was an unwitting drug courier. Although he told the judge the nature of his confession, he was sentenced to death in 2015. The verdict was reportedly overturned by the Supreme Court, but overturned again in 2017 after government intervention.
A year later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his bid to appear a reformer, said he wanted to end capital punishment for some offenders, and in 2021 the government-run Human Rights Commission (HRC) he insisted that “a moratorium” on drug-related death sentences was responsible for a sharp decline in executions.
But rights groups were skeptical and said the 85% drop in executions claimed by the regime in 2020 was partly due to coronavirus restrictions, as has also happened in other countries where capital punishment is legal.
Last month, those fears were justified without warning when Saudi Arabia executed 17 people accused of drug and smuggling offenses over a 12-day period, according to the United Nations, marking a record year for beheadings in the kingdom, spurred by the country’s largest mass execution in decades.
A few days later, Mr. Abu al-Khair reportedly told his sister that he had been transferred to the execution wing of his prison and that two men had been taken from his cell the previous one to be executed.
While the guards warned him that he would be executed sooner if he spoke to the media, he urged her to speak openly about his case, she reportedly said, adding, “How can you be a prince who is preparing to become re and make promises to the media and do something else in the shadows?
Abu al-Khair’s sister Zainab, 61, who lives in Canada, told al Daily mirror this week: “My brother lives in great fear for his life … Every moment he expects his turn as our whole family is forced to live in fear, sadness and anxiety.”
The Jordanian citizen, born in 1965, is “surrounded by death on all sides”, said his sister, adding: “It is psychological torture because he doesn’t know when his head will be cut off”.
His eight children, who live in Jordan, are “in misery” due to the absence of their father, who previously “always smiled, loved life and told jokes” and loved music, singing and sports, according to his sister.
But after eight years of detention without access to a doctor, the UN human rights council has been informed that Mr Abu al-Khair is now nearly blind and likely suffering from ‘death row syndrome’, a psychological disorder found among people at risk of execution.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that Mr. Abu al-Khair was subjected to torture before signing a confession and denied access to legal representation.
The body said Saudi Arabia may have violated its obligations under international human rights agreements and urged the regime to overturn Abu al-Khair’s death sentence and immediately and unconditionally release him and ensure he receives treatment medical.
In its 30-year history, the United Nations working group found that Saudi Arabia has violated its international human rights obligations in more than 65 instances, indicating a widespread or systemic problem of arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia that may constitute a crime against humanity, the body said.
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights said this month that dozens of inmates are on death row for drug-related crimes in Saudi Arabia and warned that the resumption of executions for such crimes will lead to an unprecedented increase in beheadings.