Human rights activists have condemned the public execution of eight Bangladeshi migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
According to reports, the eight men were beheaded in Riyadh on Friday following conviction for the alleged killing of an Egyptian national in April 2007. Three other Bangladeshis who were also convicted of murder, were sentence to prison terms and flogging.
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a Bangladeshi legal aid and human rights organization, said that while the executions were carried out under Saudi laws, such a punishment will cause grave suffering to the families of the condemned men. ASK also pointed out that foreign workers in Saudi Arabia often don’t understand the nuances of Saudi law, do not understand the Arabic language, and frequently fail to secure effective legal representation.
ASK has urged the Bangladeshi government in Dhaka to provide legal assistance to countrymen who find themselves in serious trouble in foreign countries.
According to Sultana Kamal, executive director of ASK in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi government did not even inform the families of the executed men – they learned of it through newspaper reports.
“They [migrants] are poor people they go there [Saudi Arabia] for economic reasons and we are not sure whether they were given enough opportunity to defend themselves and why weren't the families informed?,” she told Radio Australia.
However, it is unlikely that Bangladeshi officials will do much to pressure the Saudis – there are an estimated 2 million Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia and their cash remittances home are important to the impoverished nation’s economy.
Similarly, the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International is also outraged by the mass beheading, citing that since the end of the Holy month of Ramadan, executions have resumed in Saudi Arabia at an alarming rate.
Amnesty stated that the Saudis have now executed 58 people this year, more than double the rate for all of last year.
“Court proceedings in Saudi Arabia fall far short of international standards for fair trial and news of these recent multiple executions [are] deeply disturbing,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa.
“The Saudi authorities appear to have increased the number of executions in recent months, a move that puts the country at odds with the worldwide trend against the death penalty. The [Saudi] government must establish an immediate moratorium on executions in the Kingdom and commute all death sentences, with a view to abolishing the death penalty completely.”
Amnesty also pointed out that many of those who are executed in Saudi Arabia are foreign workers from poor countries who can neither afford lawyers, nor even understand the Kingdom’s court system.
“Defendants often have no defense lawyer and are unable to follow court proceedings in Arabic,” Amnesty stated. “They are also rarely allowed formal representation by a lawyer, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They, and many of the Saudi Arabians who are executed, also have no access to influential figures such as government authorities or heads of tribes, nor to money, both crucial factors in paying blood money or securing a pardon in murder cases.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador to Bangladesh, Abdullah. N. Al Bussairy, told the Daily Star newspaper of Bangladesh, insisted that his government tried to help Dhaka officials pay blood money to the family of the murdered man in Egypt (whose forgiveness might have spared the convicted men, under Sharia law).
However, the intervention didn't succeed.