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Saudi Arabia accused of beheading 12 people 'while global attention is focused on World Cup'

Saudi Arabia's leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks as he receives the Saudi football team ahead of their participation in the World Cup in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2022

Saudi Arabia have been accused of using the World Cup as a distraction after beheading 12 people in the past 14 days despite promising not to use the death penalty.

The wave of executions were punishments for drug-related offenses, although the country implemented a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for non-violent crimes in 2021.

Meanwhile, Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the opening ceremony of the World Cup on Sunday, seated next to Fifa boss Gianni Infantino.

Saudi Arabia's leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks as he receives the Saudi football team ahead of their participation in the World Cup in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2022

Saudi Arabia’s leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks as he receives the Saudi football team ahead of their participation in the World Cup in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, October 23, 2022

The Saudi Crown Prince (pictured, far right) talks to Fifa boss Gianni Infantino at the opening ceremony in Doha on Sunday evening

The Saudi Crown Prince (pictured, far right) talks to Fifa boss Gianni Infantino at the opening ceremony in Doha on Sunday evening

Human rights group Reprieve has shed light on the case of a taxi driver facing imminent execution in a Saudi prison, whose sister last year sought help from the former English star Alan Shearer.

Zeinab Abo al-Kheir wrote to the TV pundit after saying he wanted to ‘listen to evidence of human rights abuses’ in the desert kingdom following the Saudi takeover of his former club Newcastle United .

Her brother, father of eight, Hussein, was sentenced to death after amphetamine tablets were found hidden in his fuel tank at a border checkpoint.

But activists claim he confessed under torture and that the drugs were planted in his car as the vehicle was parked outside his home in Jordan.

Sursis director Maya Foa has accused Saudi Arabia of carrying out the beheadings as the world’s attention was focused on the World Cup in Doha.

“As Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) took center stage at the World Cup opening ceremony, seated next to Fifa supremo Gianni Infantino, taxi driver Hussein Abo al-Kheir cowered in a cell, terrified that the executioner would take him next.

“While all eyes are on football, Saudi Arabia is carrying out a gruesome series of executions, killing people like Hussein, an innocent man who was tortured by Saudi police to ‘confess’.

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir's brother Hussein was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2014, fearing he could soon be executed

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir’s brother Hussein was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2014, fearing he could soon be executed

“Qatar has rightly been criticized for its human rights record, but its abuses pale in comparison to the neighboring Gulf mega-state.

“Saudi Arabia has executed more people than ever before in the first six months of this year and has now begun executing drug offenders in large numbers and in secret as the world focuses on its neighbour.

“The Kingdom’s international partners must act now, to save Hussein and stop the bloodshed.”

If it took place, Hussein’s execution would be the 13th after the beheadings of three Pakistanis, four Syrians, two Jordanians and three Saudis.

The number of people executed by Saudi Arabia this year is at least 138, which is higher than the totals for 2020 and 2021 combined.

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir, the sister of a taxi driver on death row in Saudi Arabia, has asked former England striker Alan Shearer (pictured) to help save her brother's life

Zeinab Abu al-Kheir, the sister of a taxi driver on death row in Saudi Arabia, has asked former England striker Alan Shearer (pictured) to help save her brother’s life

This includes 81 people put to death in a single day in March, many of whom were political prisoners arrested during the crackdown on Shia minority protests in Eastern Province.

The high number of executions took place despite MBS’s pledge to “minimize” the death penalty, with only those convicted of murder or manslaughter being put to death.

Ms Foa added: “Mohammed bin Salman has repeatedly touted his vision for progress, pledging to reduce executions and end the death penalty for drug offences.

“But as a bloody year of executions draws to a close, Saudi authorities have resumed executing drug offenders, in large numbers and in secret.”

The prince has already backtracked on other policies, such as women’s rights.

Despite introducing looser restrictions on women in the ultra-conservative nation, including allowing them to join the military, he has also been behind the imprisonment of women’s rights activists.

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