Saudi Arabia executes Jordanian man after allegedly giving forced confession

Saudi Arabia has executed a Jordanian man whose family say he was tortured into confessing to drugs charges.

Hussein Abu al-Khair, 57, had eight children and was a driver for a wealthy Saudi.

He was arrested in 2014 while crossing the border from Jordan into Saudi Arabia, accused of smuggling amphetamines.

He was later sentenced to death, after a trial criticised by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair”.

His sister, Zeinab Abul Al-Khair, said he had told her from jail that he had been strung up by his feet and beaten.

“He never imagined a forced confession would be allowed in his trial,” she told me earlier this year.

His case has drawn international concern, with fears for his fate growing after Saudi Arabia last November ended an unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty for drugs offences. Within a fortnight, 17 men were executed on such charges.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had found that Mr Abu al-Khair’s detention lacked legal basis.

And in late 2022, the UN Human Rights office appealed for his release.

It says the use of the death penalty for drug offences is incompatible with international norms and standards.

“We urge the Saudi government to halt al-Kheir’s reported imminent execution and to comply with the Working Group’s opinion by quashing his death sentence, releasing him immediately and unconditionally, and by ensuring that he receives medical care, compensation and other reparations,” said spokesperson Liz Throssell.

The announcement that Hussein Abu al-Khair had been put to death was made on the Saudi press agency and comes a year to the day since the biggest mass execution in modern Saudi history.

Campaign group Reprieve said the Saudi authorities had not warned his family that he was about to be executed – or given them the chance to say goodbye.

It has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s allies, including the UK, for not taking a stronger stand against human rights abuses in the Kingdom.

“Exactly a year ago, Mohammed bin Salman’s regime executed 81 men in a single day, and Saudi Arabia’s international partners shrugged and issued empty statements about the importance of human rights,” said Reprieve’s director, Maya Foa.

“Rather than condemn the Crown Prince, world leaders queued up to shake his bloodstained hands. Today’s atrocity and others like it is the inevitable result. When partners signal that the Saudi regime can kill without consequences, you can be sure it will,” she added.

Mr Abu al-Khair’s case was raised in the UK parliament in late November – with a Foreign Office minister answering an Urgent Question about a surge of executions in Saudi Arabia by saying that the authorities had “clearly” tortured him and describing his treatment as “abhorrent”.

The following week the minister, David Rutley, asked for his words to be struck from the parliamentary record, saying he’d spoken in “error”.

Responding to news of the execution, Conservative MP David Davis said: “The UK government knew Hussein Abu al-Khair was at imminent risk, but the foreign secretary failed to publicly call for his execution to be halted, despite his predecessors taking this kind of action in the past.

“The UK must signal it will no longer turn a blind eye to executions like these, and speak out strongly on behalf of others who remain at risk, including child defendants like Abdullah al-Howaiti.”

The Saudi Press Agency said the Ministry of the Interior was announcing that the death penalty had been implemented against Hussein Abu al-Khair to “confirm the keenness of the Kingdom’s government to combat drugs of all kinds because of the severe harm they cause to the individual and society”.

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