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Saudi Arabia to review death sentences given to three minors

Ali al-Nimr was arrested aged 17 for taking part in a protest [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 August, 2020

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Ali Al-Nimr, Dawoud Al-Marhoon and Abdullah Al-Zaher were arrested as minors on protest-related charges, are set to have their death sentences reviewed
Saudi Arabia's public prosecution will review death sentences handed down to three minors, including the nephew of an influential Shia cleric whose execution sparked rare protests in the kingdom, according to a statement issued on Thursday.

Ali Al-Nimr, the nephew of Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, Dawoud Al-Marhoon and Abdullah Al-Zaher, were all issued death sentences in 2016 after being convicted of protest-related crimes, classified as terrorism by Saudi authorities.

They were detained when they were aged under-18 for allegedly taking part in anti-government protests and using violence against security forces in 2011 and 2012.

They were subsequently tried by Saudi Arabia's terrorism tribunal and sentenced to death in 2014. However their trials prompted outrage from rights groups, who said they were marred with violations of due process.

Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther called the announcement "a significant and long overdue step towards justice," calling on Saudi authorities to conduct a fair and transparent retrial.

"The authorities must also ensure that the ‘confessions’ extracted from them through torture are not used in proceedings against them," Luther said.

“Crucially, the young men should not be subjected again to a deeply flawed trial before the Specialised Criminal Court, which was established to try individuals accused of terror-related crimes. Instead, the authorities must ensure that any retrial is conducted in a regular court," he added.

New regulations curbing the death penalty for some child offenders in April this year raised hopes that the trio's sentences would be commuted. However the reforms did not extend to those whose crimes were classified as terrorism.

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world, and issues the death penalty for crimes including murder, drug smuggling, rape, armed robbery, and terrorism offences.

Read also: Saudi Arabia's record-shattering executions are mass murder, and it's getting away with it

Saudi Arabia is one of very few countries that imposes the death penalty on child offenders.

The kingdom executed a record 184 people in 2019, according to Amnesty International, including at least one person convicted of a crime committed when he was a child.

Luther called the execution rates "appalling".

"The announcement to review the death sentences of the young men should not be used as an attempt to whitewash the country’s image before the international community and ahead of its hosting of the G20 Summit in Riyadh in November," he said.

“We call on the Saudi Arabian authorities to establish an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty completely.”

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