Three alleged child offenders in Saudi Arabia awaits execution
April 17, Beirut: Three Saudi men are awaiting execution for alleged, protest-related crimes committed while they were children. Saudi judges based the capital convictions primarily on confessions that the three defendants retracted in court and said had been coerced. The courts did not investigate the allegations that the confessions were obtained by torture.
Saudi Arabia’s announcement on March 11, 2016 that it will execute another four men for terrorism offenses raises fears that one or all three of the sentences could be carried out.
Human Rights Watch has obtained and analyzed the trial judgments that the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, handed down in 2014 against one of the men, Ali al-Nimr, and in a separate case, against Dawoud al-Marhoun and Abdullah al-Zaher. The judgments reveal flagrant due process violations, including denial of access to lawyers promptly after arrest or during lengthy pretrial detention, when investigators obtained the confessions.
“Sentencing alleged child offenders to death is an appalling example of the Saudi court system’s injustice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “Not only are these three young men sentenced to death for alleged crimes they committed as children, but the courts didn’t even bother to investigate when they said they were coerced to confess.”
The three were arrested for their alleged participation in demonstrations by members of the Shia minority in 2011 and 2012. Local activists said that more than 200 people from Shia-majority towns and villages in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have gone on trial for alleged protest-related crimes since 2011.
Mostly Shia residents of Eastern Province towns such as Qatif, Awamiya, and Hufuf have repeatedly held protests over discrimination by the government since 2011. Saudi Arabia’s Shia citizens face systematic discrimination in public education, government employment, and permission to build houses of worship in the majority-Sunni country.
Al-Nimr was tried individually and sentenced in May 2014. The other two were tried as part of a group and sentenced in October 2014. Al-Nimr and al-Marhoun were 17 at the time of their arrests, while al-Zaher was 15.
Local media reported that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld al-Nimr’s death sentence in September 2015, and that the Supreme Court informed a relative of al-Marhoun that it had upheld death sentences for al-Marhoun and al-Zaher in October 2015.
On January 2, 2016, Saudi Arabia carried out a mass execution of 47 men convicted on terrorism-related charges, four of whom were Shia, including a prominent cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, Ali al-Nimr’s uncle. The trial judgement for Ali Sa'eed Al Ribh, one of the other Shia men executed on January 2, indicates that he was under 18 when he allegedly committed some of the protest-related crimes for which he was sentenced to death in 2014.
In 2015, only Iran and Pakistan executed people for crimes committed when they were under 18, according to Amnesty International. Both countries, as well as Bangladesh and Maldives, also sentenced child offenders to death last year, while previously convicted child offenders remained on death row in Indonesia, Iran, Papua New Guinea, and Saudi Arabia.
Since the beginning of 2016 Saudi Arabia has executed 84 people. Saudi Arabia executed 158 people in 2015, most for murder and drug smuggling.
Article 13 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2009, guarantees the right to a fair trial. Article 15 of the Convention against Torture, to which Saudi Arabia acceded in 1997, obliges Saudi Arabia to “ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings…”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Saudi Arabia acceded in 1996, stipulates a number of important rights for children accused of committing crimes. They include the right to prepare an appropriate defense with “legal or other appropriate assistance” (article 40.2), the right “to have the matter determined without delay by a competent, independent and impartial authority or judicial body in a fair hearing according to law, in the presence of legal or other appropriate assistance,” including the child’s parents or legal guardian (article 40.3), and the right to “not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt” (article 40.4). Article 37(a) prohibits capital punishment for children in all cases. Saudi authorities appear to have violated these obligations in the cases of al-Nimr, al-Marhoun, and al-Zaher.
The Oslo Times