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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Saudi arrested as juvenile could face execution despite reforms, warns HRW

Al-Huwaiti was convicted at 14 years of age [Twitter]

Date of publication: 3 April, 2021

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"In sentencing a child to die while ignoring torture allegations, the Saudi court made a mockery of the country’s alleged 'reforms'," said HRW.
A young Saudi man convicted for crimes he reportedly committed as a minor faces execution, despite Saudi Arabia saying it has scrapped the death penalty for juveniles, Human Rights Watch warned in a statement on Wednesday.

Abdullah al-Huwaiti was convicted in October 2019 at age 17, on murder and armed robbery charges along with five other defendants, the statement said. He was arrested when he was 14 for crimes allegedly committed in 2017.

The other defendants received 15-year prison sentences and 1,000 lashes each. All six pleaded not guilty, telling the court during the trial that interrogators coerced their confessions through torture or the threat of it, the HRW statement said.  

The Saudi government media office did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

HRW said Huwaiti was sentenced to death and ordered to pay 1,315,000 Saudi Riyals ($350,000) to the victims. His case is due to be transferred to Riyadh’s Supreme Court for a final ruling.

"Al-Huwaiti’s court proceedings flouted almost every internationally recognizable fair trial guarantee," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. 

"In sentencing a child to die while ignoring torture allegations, the Saudi court made a mockery of the country’s alleged 'reforms'."

Court documents say a man dressed in a woman's black abaya, niqab and gloves walked into a jewellery store in the city of Duba in Tabuk armed with a pistol and a machine gun. The man robbed the store at gunpoint, shot and wounded two store employees, and killed a policeman as he arrived at the scene in a patrol car. 

Masked security agents later raided al-Huwaiti’s family home in Duba, accusing him of robbing the jewellery store and killing the policeman.

Saudi authorities said last year that they would stop sentencing to death people who committed crimes while minors and would apply this retroactively, Reuters reported.

However, the March 2020 royal decree announcing this was not reported by state media or published in the official gazette as would be normal practice. Human rights groups and western lawmakers had raised concerns about its implementation.

Asked whether the decree applied to all types of crimes, the state-backed Human Rights Commission told Reuters in February that the ban only applied to a lesser category of offense under Islamic law known as "ta'zeer".

This would mean judges can therefore still sentence child offenders to death under the other two categories, according to Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of sharia: "houdoud", or serious crimes that carry a prescribed punishment, including terrorism, and "qisas" - or retribution, usually for murder.

Huwaiti was convicted on a "houdoud" charge.

HRW called on Saudi authorities to review the case and investigate allegations of torture.

"Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system will never gain credibility until it makes sweeping changes," Page said.

"At a bare minimum, Saudi Arabia should join the vast majority of countries by banning the death penalty for children in all cases without exception."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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