Zeinab Abo al Jeir lives in “extreme terror”: her brother Hussein, sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, could be the next in a wave of executions that has multiplied in recent weeks in the Gulf kingdom.
After five months without carrying out the death sentence, Saudi authorities have executed 24 people since early October, most in the last two weeks, according to an AFP tally based on information from state media.
Those people include 16 drug-related convicts, ending a nearly two-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty for those crimes.
On Tuesday, the UN called the wave of executions “deeply regrettable”, mostly for drug-related crimes, saying it was “incompatible” with international standards.
In Saudi Arabia, executions usually take place by beheading, but people punished for crimes considered more serious can be crucified, as happened in 2019.
Jordanian citizen Hussein Abo al Jeir has been on death row since 2015. Uncertainty over his fate leaves his sister Zeinab and her entire family “under psychological pressure and in extreme terror”.
“We have not been able to contact him. We always wait for some communication from him. Sometimes we wait six months or more,” Zeinab told AFP in Canada, where she lives.
Except in cases of those convicted of murder, where the victims’ families are informed in advance, authorities usually announce executions after they have taken place, explains Duaa Dhainy, a researcher at the Euro-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), based in Germany.
According to the activist, family members often find out about executions through the state media, which does not always mention the names of prisoners.
Families “can’t even say goodbye to their loved ones,” he says.
At the age of 57, Husein Abo al Jeir was arrested in 2014 on the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a private driver in Tabuk, a city in the north of the kingdom, says his sister.
According to her and UK-based NGO Reprieve, he was tortured for 12 days, without access to a lawyer, before signing a document admitting to being involved in drug trafficking. The AFP was unable to independently verify these allegations, and Saudi officials did not respond to the news outlet’s inquiries.
UN experts estimate that this is an arbitrary detention without legal basis.
The week before, Hussein had contacted a relative in Jordan to announce that he had been transferred to an area of Tabuk prison reserved for prisoners facing execution.
“He is very scared, he is very sad and he guarantees that he was the victim of an injustice”, says his sister Zeinab. “He awaits the moment of his death, to be beheaded with a saber, after an absolutely unfair process,” she adds.
In all, there have been 144 executions in Saudi Arabia this year, according to the AFP tally, more than double the number in all of last year. In March, in a single day, 81 people accused of a terrorism case were executed.