RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Wednesday executed seven men convicted of armed robbery despite last-minute appeals by international rights groups that their lives be spared, a witness in the southern city of Abha said.
The execution was "implemented a while ago at a public square in Abha," the witness told AFP by telephone, 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 - Sarhan Al Mashaikh, Saeed Al Zahrani, Ali Al Shahri, Nasser Al Qahtani, Saeed Al Shahrani, Abdulaziz Al Amri and Ali Al Qahtani - were charged with organising a criminal group, armed robbery and raiding and breaking into jewellery stores in 2005, and sentenced to death in 2009.
International rights groups have protested that the men - now aged between 20 to 24 years old according to news website sabq.org - were condemned for crimes committed when they were juveniles.
"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 MENA director 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, which applies a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law, are generally carried out by beheading but media reports said authorities were considering using firing squads due to lack of swordsmen.
In 2012, the kingdom executed 76 people, according to an AFP tally based on official figures. The US-based Human Rights Watch put the number at 69.