Minors in Saudi Arabia face execution despite announced reforms
The kingdom said last year it would revoke death sentences on individuals who committed crimes as minors. Yet the March 2020 royal decree was not reported by state media or published in the official gazette - as would be normal practice - raising concerns about its implementation.
In a communication to the United Nations published on Thursday, Saudi authorities confirmed that the royal decree only applies to cases of ta'zeer - a form of punishment for offences not specified in Islamic texts, according to Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Sharia.
Judges can still sentence child offenders to death under other other Sharia punishments, which include 'hadd', penalties given for serious crimes as specified by the Quran, and 'qisas', a form of punishment that allows equal retalition.
By Reprieve's count, 10 people are currently at risk of execution in the kingdom. Seven were convicted of hadd offences and one of a qisas offence. Only two of them would be covered by the royal decree's protections.
"When eight out of 10 people facing the death penalty for childhood crimes remain at risk of execution, it's hard to see how anything has changed, despite all the promises of progress and reform," Reprieve director Maya Foa said.
In early April, Human Rights Watch warned that a young Saudi man convicted for crimes he reportedly committed as a minor faced execution.
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.
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'."
Huwaiti was also convicted on a "hadd" 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.