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Saudi Arabia: Child offenders among latest to be executed

Plus - teenagers due to be “severely flogged” 1,500 and 1,250 times

Amnesty International has condemned recent executions in Saudi Arabia as reports show that five people were beheaded in the kingdom on Sunday.

Among them, said Amnesty, were two aged only 17 at the time of the offence for which they were sentenced to death. Such executions are expressly forbidden under international law. The latest executions took to 36 the number of people executed in Saudi Arabia this year (in 2008, meanwhile, there were at least 102 people put to death by the Saudi authorities).

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director Philip Luther said:

“These beheadings are a deplorable addition to Saudi Arabia’s grim tally of executions.

“It is cruel and inhumane to put anyone to death, but it is particularly outrageous to do so when the executions take place after grossly unfair procedures and when they take the lives of individuals accused of committing crimes when they were still minors.”

Sultan Bin Sulayman Bin Muslim al-Muwallad, a Saudi Arabian, and ‘Issa bin Muhammad ‘Umar Muhammad, a Chadian, were beheaded on Sunday along with three other men after being convicted of a number of offences, including the abduction and rape of Children's rights, theft, and consumption of alcohol and drugs. These offences had, according to the judgment, amounted to "corruption on earth", a charge that can carry the death penalty in Saudi Arabia even when the offences do not result in lethal consequences.

The men were among seven arrested in 2004 and held incommunicado at police stations in Madina, where they were allegedly beaten in an attempt to make them confess. Four years later, in February 2008, the Madina General Court sentenced five of them to death after a trial that was held in secret. Their sentences were upheld by the Court of Cassation in Makkah in July 2008.

Two other men in the same case - Bilal Bin Muslih Bin Jabir al-Muwallad, a Saudi Arabian, and Ahmad Hamid Muhammad Sabir, a Chadian, who were just 15 and 13 respectively at the time of their alleged offences - were sentenced to “severe flogging” on the same charges, in addition to terms of imprisonment. Specifically, they will receive 1,500 and 1,250 severe lashes respectively, administered in installments at 10-day intervals in public at the scene of the offences. Saudi Arabia is a state party to the UN Convention Against Torture, which expressly prohibits the use of punishments such as flogging.

Due to the strict secrecy of the criminal justice system, it is not possible to know exactly how many of those convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18 have been put to death in Saudi Arabia, but Amnesty International is aware of at least eight other juveniles who are feared to be on death row. They include Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan national who was 17 at the time of the alleged murder for which she was sentenced to death following her arrest in 2005. They may also include Sultan Kohail, a 16-year-old Canadian national who is facing trial in an adult court on murder charges, along with his brother Mohamed Kohail, aged 22, who has been sentenced to death.

Saudi Arabia is also a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which expressly prohibits the execution of juveniles. Saudi Arabian officials have maintained that they comply with this obligation because they do not execute Children's rights. In fact, the convention prohibits executions for crimes committed while a person is under 18, regardless of when the sentence is carried out.

Amnesty has repeatedly raised the cases of these seven men with the Saudi authorities in the past year.

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