The executions take place as a Saudi-led military operation in neighbouring Yemen intensifies and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, consolidates control.
The soldiers were found guilty of “the crime of high treason in cooperation with the enemy” in a manner that endangers the kingdom and its military interests, according to the ministry in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The three soldiers were identified in the declaration as Mohammed bin Ahmed, Shaher bin Issa, and Hamoud bin Ibrahim, but no specific enemy was named.
Saudi Arabia, a Sunni superpower, sees Shiite Iran as its key strategic adversary and sees Yemen’s Tehran-aligned Houthi rebels as a potential security challenge.
The declaration is an unusual announcement of military executions in the kingdom, which is notorious for keeping its armed forces a closely guarded secret.
“The fact that the names of the decedents were publicised means the Saudis must consider their alleged misconduct to be exceptionally egregious and thus worthy of exemplary punishment,” David Des Roches, from the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told AFP.
The soldiers were executed in the military’s Southern Command, which is located along the border with Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a six-year war against Houthi rebels.
In March 2015, Riyadh led a military alliance into Yemen to support the globally recognised regime, but it has failed to overthrow the Houthis.
It has also seen an increase in rocket and drone attacks on the kingdom.
Fighting in Yemen’s key Marib area has escalated, with 53 pro-government and Houthi rebel fighters killed in the last 24 hours, loyalist military officials said Saturday.
The Houthis have been trying to seize oil-rich Marib, the government’s last significant pocket of territory in the north, since February.
RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Defense has announced the execution of three soldiers – Mohammed bin Ahmed bin Yahya Akam, Shaher bin Isa bin Qasim Haqqawi, and Hamoud bin Ibrahim bin Ali Hazmi on charges of high treason, Saudi Press Agency, SPA reported.
— Vineet (@38ParallelLine) April 10, 2021
The executions take place as Prince Mohammed, the 35-year-old heir to the throne, consolidates authority.
Prince Mohammed, the son of the kingdom’s ageing dictator, King Salman, is now regarded as the country’s day-to-day ruler, overseeing all major levers of governance, from defence to the economy.
He is the defence minister, and his younger brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, serves as the deputy.
Over the last three years, the crown prince has launched a broad crackdown on dissidents and opponents, imprisoning influential royal family members, corporate tycoons, clergy, and leftists.
According to multiple outlets, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King Salman’s brother, and former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef were detained in March of last year.
Saudi authorities have not publicly commented on their continued arrest, which observers believe is a move by Prince Mohammed to eliminate any sign of internal opposition.
The kingdom has long been chastised for having one of the highest rates of executions in the world, as well as an opaque justice structure, according to human rights activists.
However, the government-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) earlier this year announced a dramatic reduction in executions in 2020, as the kingdom tries to mitigate international scrutiny of its human rights record.
According to the Human Rights Council, there were 27 executions in 2020, an 85 percent decline from the previous year, owing in part to a ban on the death penalty for drug-related offences.
According to a tally based on official estimates released by state media, Saudi Arabia has executed 20 people since the beginning of this year.