Saudi Arabia has executed 81 people in a single day, in the largest mass execution by the kingdom in modern history.
The number dwarfed the 67 executions reported there in all of 2021 and the 27 in 2020.
The offenses ranged from joining militant groups to having “deviated beliefs”, the kingdom’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry did not say how the executions, which took place on Saturday, were carried out.
The kingdom also said those executed included members of al-Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State group and backers of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been in a bitter war with Saudi Arabia for more than six years.
The mass execution is likely to again draw attention to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record at a time when world powers have focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rights groups have accused Saudi Arabia of enforcing restrictive laws on political and religious expression, and criticized it for using the death penalty, including for defendants detained as minors.
“There are prisoners of conscience on Saudi Arabia’s death row and others arrested as children or charged with non-violent crimes,” Soraya Bauwens, deputy director of anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, said in a statement.
“We fear for each one of them after this brutal display of impunity,” he added.
Saudi Arabia denies the allegations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.
The Saudi Press agency said the defendants were “provided with the right to counsel and guaranteed all their rights under Saudi law during the court process.”
The defendants were executed after being found guilty of “committing multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officials dead,” the Saudi Press agency said.
The agency added: “The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world.”
The number of executions even exceeded that of January 1980, when 63 militants were executed for seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia’s holiest city and place of pilgrimage, in 1979.
The last mass execution in the kingdom came in January 2016, when 47 people were put to death, including a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had organized demonstrations.