A SAUDI firing squad has executed seven armed robbers despite last-minute appeals by rights groups that their lives be spared as they were juveniles when they committed their crimes.

The condemned men were convicted of “forming a gang that carried out several armed robberies and thefts with the help of other people”, the government said in a statement published on the official SPA news agency.

They were executed “as a punishment to them and to deter others” from carrying out similar crimes, said SPA, adding that their fellow robbers had been sentenced to various jail terms and lashes.

A witness said on Wednesday that “the execution was “implemented a while ago at a public square in Abha,” adding that the defendants were “shot dead” and not beheaded as is customary in the kingdom.

The announcement came soon after Amnesty International released a statement renewing calls on the Saudi authorities to halt the executions.

They “look set to be shot on Wednesday morning,” said Amnesty, which described the executions as “sheer brutality”.

The seven men, now aged 20 to 24 years old, raided jewellery stores in 2005 and were sentenced to death in 2009.

“It is a bloody day when a government executes seven people on the grounds of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture, submitted at a trial where they had no legal representation or recourse to appeal,” said Amnesty’s Philip Luther.

They claimed their relatives were also “threatened with torture if they withdrew their confessions”, said Amnesty.

They had been scheduled to die on March 5, but their executions were postponed for a week.

Executions in Saudi Arabia are generally carried out by beheading but media reports said authorities were considering using firing squads due to a lack of swordsmen.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s strict version of sharia, or Islamic law.

source: http://www.news.com.au