On Wednesday, Amnesty International expressed concern over “imminent” execution of 12 Shiites who are currently under the direct control of a security body which reports directly to Saudi Arabia’s king.
“Given the secrecy surrounding Saudi Arabia's judicial proceedings, we fear that this development signals the imminent execution of the 12 men," stated Heba Morayef, who is Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
In 2016, the men were declared to be working as spies for Iran and thus were sentenced to execution following a major trial.
The body currently in charge of the case was established in 2017 and combines counterterrorism and intelligence services, reporting directly to the Saudi king.
The Shiite population in Saudi Arabia is considered a minority, making up between 10 to 15 percent of the Kingdom’s 32 million population. Shiites in Saudi Arabia routinely launch protests against Sunni persecution and discrimination of their community.
The Kingdom claims the death penalty is an effective tool to combat serious crimes. Saudi Arabia is known for its conservative take on punishment, with the highest rates of execution in the world concerning terrorism, rape, robbery, drug trafficking and homicide.
The uncertainty of the fate of the men being held in Saudi custody follows the Kingdom's admission to unsavory circumstances leading to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In the aftermath of Khashoggi's death, King Salman has allegedly ordered the “restructuring” of the Saudi intelligence services to form a special ministerial committee.