Saudi Arabia: seven juvenile offenders face imminent execution
Six of the group are from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority, while one was aged only 12 at the time of his alleged offence
Country executed 196 people last year and has executed a further 54 this year
‘The Saudi authorities have promised to limit the use of the death penalty’ - Heba Morayef
Seven young men who were juveniles at the time of their alleged offences are facing imminent execution in Saudi Arabia despite the country having committed to ending its use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders, said Amnesty International.
All seven of the men were children - including one who was 12 - at the time of their alleged crimes, and all were denied legal representation throughout their pre-trial detention.
Six of the group were sentenced on terrorism-related charges, the seventh for armed robbery and murder, and all were subjected to unfair trials marred by the use of torture-tainted confessions. Their death sentences were upheld by an appeals court between March 2022 and March this year.
The six convicted on terrorism-related charges - including for taking part in anti-government protests or attending the funerals of those killed by security forces - are from Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority, who routinely face discrimination and grossly unfair trials on vague and wide-ranging charges stemming from their opposition to the government.
Yousef al-Manasif, who was aged between 15 and 18 at the time of his alleged offence, was sentenced to death by the country’s notorious Specialised Criminal Court last November. According to his charge sheet and verdict, which Amnesty has reviewed, he was convicted on several charges including, “Seeking to disrupt the social fabric and national cohesion, and participating and inciting sit-ins and protests that disrupt the state’s cohesion and security”. His family said they were not allowed to see or visit him until more than six months after his arrest, during which time he was reportedly held in solitary confinement. An appeals court upheld his sentence in March.
Another defendant, Abdullah al-Darazi, who was 17 at the time of his offence, was convicted for his alleged involvement in “riots in al-Qatif, and chanting slogans against the state and causing chaos”, and “attacking security officials with Molotov cocktails”. He told the court that he was held in pre-trial detention for three years and not allowed access to a lawyer throughout his pre-trial detention. According to his court documents, which Amnesty has reviewed, he told the judge:
“I demand an independent medical evaluation to prove the torture that I have been subjected to … The records of the Dammam investigations unit hospital prove that I continue to be treated as a result of beatings on my ears during my interrogation, and I continue to call for a medical report on this.”
The court failed to conduct an independent medical investigation or investigate his torture allegations, and instead, last August, an appeals court upheld his death sentence.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:
“The Saudi authorities have promised to limit the use of the death penalty and adopted legal reforms that prohibit the execution of people who were children at the time of the crime.
“If the authorities wish any of those promises to be taken seriously, they should order an immediate halt to the planned execution of the seven, who were all children at the time of their arrest.
“The Saudi government must think of the horror they are inflicting on families by withholding information about the executions of their young son, brother, husband or relative.
“To play with the emotions of these distraught families who are desperate for a sign of mercy or reprieve is unconscionable. Their suffering is unimaginable.”
The seven facing execution have all been convicted of “ta’zir” offences which have no fixed punishment in Islamic law, with the scale of the punishment left to the discretion of the judges. In 2018, Saudi Arabia introduced a new juvenile law which set a maximum penalty of ten years in prison for anyone under the age of 18 convicted of a ta’zir crime. A 2020 royal order also prohibited judges from imposing discretionary death sentences on individuals below the age of 15 at the time of the crime for which they’d been convicted. In May this year, the Saudi Human Rights Commission said in a letter to Amnesty that “the application of the death penalty on juveniles for ta’zir crimes has been completely abolished”.
One of world’s top executioners
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top executioners. In 2022, it executed 196 people, the highest number of executions in one year recorded by Amnesty in the country during the past 30 years. This was three times higher than the number of executions carried out in 2021 and a seven-fold increase on executions three years ago. In Saudi Arabia, families are often not informed when the Supreme Court and the king ratify a death sentence, and may only find out about the execution of their loved one from the media. So far this year, Saudi Arabia has executed 54 people for a wide range of crimes, including murder, drug smuggling and terrorism-related offences. In November 2022, Saudi Arabia resumed executions for drug-related offences, ending a moratorium on such executions which the authorities said had been in place since January 2020.