© Amnesty International

Saudi Arabia: Young men face imminent execution despite assurances on re-sentencing juveniles to prison terms

At least three young men in Saudi Arabia are at imminent risk of execution after an appeal court confirmed their sentences between June and October this year, Amnesty International said today. Following their grossly unfair trials, the organization is calling upon the Saudi authorities to commute the young men’s sentences as the world marks World Day Against the Death Penalty.

In February 2022, the Saudi Human Rights Commission told Amnesty International that the country had halted executions of individuals for “crimes committed by minors” and said they had commuted all outstanding death sentences in such cases.

“Sentencing people to death for crimes that occurred when they were under the age of 18 is a clear violation of international human rights law. The Saudi Arabian authorities have promised to end the use of the death penalty in such cases, yet the brutal reality is that these young men are facing an abbreviated existence,” said Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The King should not ratify these death sentences and should immediately halt all imminent executions and order re-trials that must be fully consistent with international fair trial standards, without recourse to the death penalty.”

Between June and October 2022, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and another criminal court upheld the death sentence of three young men. A Saudi Arabian appeal court upheld on 4 October the death sentence against Jalal al-Labbad, one of three young men in Saudi Arabia at imminent risk of execution. The trial of two others before the SCC continues as the prosecution demanded the death penalty. All five individuals were children between the ages of 14 and 18 at the time of their alleged crimes.

Sentencing people to death for crimes that occurred when they were under the age of 18 is a clear violation of international human rights law.

Diana Semaan, Amnesty International

Four out of the five individuals are from the Shi’a minority. They have been convicted or accused of terrorism-related charges over their participation in anti-government protests or attending the funerals of those killed by security forces. The authorities have repeatedly handed down death sentences to members of their community as they seek to silence dissent in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.  

Grossly unfair trials

According to court documents analyzed by Amnesty International, all the young men were subjected to a litany of violations throughout their pre-trial detention, including being detained incommunicado and in solitary confinement for up to nine months. They were also all denied access to a lawyer during their pre-trial detention.

Yousef al-Manasif, who was between 15 and 18 years old at the time of the “crime”, risks being sentenced to death in an ongoing trial before the SCC. He was held in incommunicado detention and solitary confinement during the first six months of his detention.

Failure to investigate allegations of torture

Saudi security officials subjected four of the young men to torture and other ill-treatment to extract “confessions”.  As a result of the torture, one of the four men developed chronic infections in his genital tract. The court failed to investigate allegations of torture and relied on torture tainted confessions when convicting defendants.

Everything in the ‘confession’ is not true, and I was forced to confess as I was beaten and threatened… I was also told to change my testimony to match that of other defendants.

Abdullah al-Huwaiti

Jalal Labbad was initially sentenced to death on 1 August 2022, for alleged crimes that occurred when he was 16 and 17 years old. He was held in pretrial detention for around two years during which he was subjected to psychological and physical torture, including sleep deprivation over a period of three weeks.

Describing the abuse he suffered, he told the court: “Severe beating all over my body, and particularly on my right leg, which already had metal implants from a previous operation… Kicking my face and entire body, including my genitals by four to six soldiers following the orders of the investigator, who urged them to intensify the beating and torture… Electrocuting my entire body, and particularly my genitals in a dark room.” He added that the torture led to several health problems, for which he has been denied medical treatment.

The SCC convicted him on a wide range of charges, including chanting slogans that insulted state leaders while attending funerals of those killed by security forces, joining an “armed rebellion against the ruling system” that allegedly kidnapped and murdered a judge, and shooting at and throwing Molotov cocktails at security officials.

In August 2022, the SCC court of appeal upheld the death sentence of Abdullah al-Darazi, who was arrested at the age of 16. During his trial proceedings, Abdullah al-Darazi requested an independent medical evaluation of health conditions that he developed as a result of torture. The court failed to do so.

Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who was arrested in May 2017 at the age of 14 on charges of armed robbery and murdering a security officer, is one of those at imminent risk of execution. Following a re-trial ordered by the Supreme Court in 2021, he was re-sentenced to death by a Criminal Court in Tabuk on 2 March 2022. He refused to sign his testimony, telling the court: “Everything in the ‘confession’ is not true, and I was forced to confess as I was beaten and threatened… I was also told to change my testimony to match that of other defendants.”

Background

On 15 March 2022, Amnesty International documented the execution of 81 men, including Saudi and non-Saudi citizens. Of those executed, 41 were from the Shi’a minority. Since then, the authorities have continued to mete out death sentences to Shi’a men, including those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crimes.

Amnesty has documented grossly unfair trials before the SCC, which was set up in 2008 to try individuals accused of terror-related crimes, with defendants convicted on vague, “catch-all” charges that criminalize peaceful opposition as “terrorism” and in dozens of cases, sentenced to death on the basis of torture-tainted “confessions”.