Despite the Saudi authorities’ commitment to end their use of the death penalty against children under 18 at the time of the crime, seven young men are at risk of imminent execution after an appeals court confirmed their punishment, Amnesty International said today. Their execution would mark a chilling escalation of the already record-breaking use of the death penalty with the number of executions in the country having increased seven-fold in the past three years alone.
“Saudi authorities have promised to limit the use of the death penalty and adopted legal reforms that prohibit the execution of people who were children at the time of the crime. If the authorities wish any of those promises to be taken seriously, they should order an immediate halt to the planned execution of the seven, who were all children at the time of their arrest,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
If the authorities wish any of those promises to be taken seriously, they should order an immediate halt to the planned execution of the seven, who were all children at the time of their arrest.Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Director, Amnesty International
Families are often not informed when the Supreme Court and King ratify death sentences and often find out about the execution of their loved ones from the media.
The seven men were children under the age of 18, including one who was 12 years old, at the time of the alleged crimes. They were also denied legal representation throughout their pre-trial detention. Their death sentences were upheld by an appeals court between March 2022 and March 2023. Six of them were sentenced on terrorism-related charges, the seventh for armed robbery and murder, after unfair trials marred by torture-tainted confessions.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top executioners. In 2022, the kingdom executed 196 people, the highest number of annual executions that Amnesty International has recorded in the country in the last 30 years. This number is three times higher than the number of executions carried out in 2021 and at least seven times higher than 2020.
So far this year, Saudi Arabia has executed 54 people for a wide range of crimes, including murder, drug smuggling and terrorism-related crimes.
Legislative reforms ignored
Ta’zir punishments which all the seven young men have been convicted of, have no fixed punishment in Sharia, or Islamic law, and the scale of the punishment is therefore left to the discretion of the judges.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia introduced the Juvenile Law which set a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for anyone under the age of 18 convicted of a ta’zir crime. A 2020 Royal Order also prohibited judges from imposing discretionary death sentences on individuals under 15 years old at the time of the crime they are convicted of.
In May 2023, the Saudi Human Rights Commission confirmed in a letter to Amnesty International that “the application of the death penalty on juveniles for ta’zir crimes has been completely abolished”.
Grossly unfair trials
Six of the seven young men were convicted of terrorism-related charges, including for taking part in anti-government protests or attending the funerals of those killed by security forces.
The six young men sentenced to death are from the Shi’a minority, who routinely face discrimination and grossly unfair trials on vague and wide-ranging charges stemming from their opposition to the government.
Yousef al-Manasif, who was between 15 and 18 years old at the time of the alleged offence, was sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in November 2022.
According to his charge sheet and verdict, which Amnesty International reviewed, al-Manasif was convicted on several charges including: “Seeking to disrupt the social fabric and national cohesion, and participating and inciting sit-ins and protests that disrupt the state’s cohesion and security.” His family said they were not allowed to see or visit him until over six months after his arrest, during which time they said he was held in solitary confinement. The appeals court upheld his sentence in March 2023.
Another defendant, Abdullah al-Darazi, was 17 years old at the time of the alleged offence. Amongst other charges, he was convicted of “participating … in riots in al-Qatif, and chanting slogans against the state and causing chaos” and “attacking security officials with Molotov cocktails”. He told the court that he was held in pre-trial detention for three years and not allowed access to a lawyer throughout his investigations and pre-trial detention.
According to his court documents, which Amnesty International reviewed, he told the judge: “I demand an independent medical evaluation to prove the torture that I have been subjected to…The records of the Dammam investigations unit hospital prove that I continue to be treated as a result of beatings on my ears during my interrogation, and I continue to call for a medical report on this.”
The records of the Dammam investigations unit hospital prove that I continue to be treated as a result of beatings on my ears during my interrogation.Defendent Abdullah al-Darazi, 17 years old at time of alleged offence
The court failed to conduct an independent medical investigation or investigate his torture allegations, and instead, in August 2022, the SCC Appeals Court upheld his death sentence.
“Executing people who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime they have been convicted of, or for crimes not involving intentional killing, or after unfair trials including on the basis of confessions obtained by torture or other ill-treatment violate international law. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment,” said Morayef.
Scale of executions far greater than reported
In the same letter to Amnesty International in May, the Saudi Human Rights Commission disclosed that 196 people had been executed in 2022. This is much higher than the number of executions reported by the official Saudi Press Agency and recorded by Amnesty in 2022, which stood at 148 executions.
“The discrepancy in the number of executions the Saudi Human Rights Commission provided and those reported by the Saudi Press Agency indicates that the scale of executions is even worse than that regularly reported by the Saudi Press Agency. If the Saudi authorities wish for any of their professed reform plans to be taken seriously, as a first step they need to establish a moratorium on executions ensure that no statements obtained through torture are admitted by the courts.,” said Morayef.