Saudi Arabia Curbs Death Penalty in Move to Soften Image

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Saudi Arabia said Monday it had imposed a moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related offenses that led to an 85% reduction in executions, as the conservative Muslim kingdom seeks to soften its image to attract Western tourists and foreign investment.

The state-backed Human Rights Commission said 27 executions were recorded in 2020. That is down from 184 the year before, according to rights watchdog Amnesty International, when Saudi Arabia trailed only China and Iran globally.

The commission declined to provide additional details about the change that had gone into effect last year.

The interior ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. Official Saudi announcements show no drug-related executions since January 2020, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The move comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeals to Western tourists and foreign investors put off by Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a bastion of ultraconservative social norms enforced by religious police. Beheadings and crucifixions were once commonplace in public squares, including in the center of Riyadh, the capital.

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