Eight men who are alleged to have committed protest-related crimes while they were children face the possibility of a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.
Group charge sheets analyzed by Human Rights Watch note that the men, who have been in pre-trial custody for up to two years, note that several of the accused allegedly committed crimes when they were between 14 and 17, with one alleged to have committed a non-violent crime while just nine years old. The defendants are all from a Shia minority area of Saudi Arabia.
The charges include “seeking to destabilize the social fabric by participating in protests and funeral processions,” “chanting slogans hostile to the regime,” and “seeking to incite discord and division”. The prosecutors, who are answerable to the king, are seeking to have them executed for these supposed “crimes”.
The men were arrested between April 2017 and January 2018. Ahmad al-Faraj, Ali al-Batti, Mohammed al-Nimr, Ali al-Faraj and Mohammed al-Faraj have had just two trial hearings.
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “If Saudi Arabia is serious about reforming its criminal justice system, it should start by banning the death penalty against alleged child offenders in all cases.”
Sources close to al-Nimr and al-Faraj allege that they were tortured and denied access to legal counsel. They are charged with crimes such as use of firearms and attacking police officers, although no police injuries were recorded. The charges were based on confessions, which may have been made during torture.
Saudi Arabia has a history of executing and threatening to execute people who allegedly committed crimes as children. In June 2019, prosecutors sought the death penalty against Murtaja Qureiris, 18, who allegedly committed offenses while just 10 or 11 years old. He was arrested at 13. His sentence was reduced to 12 years in prison following international pressure.
Criminalising the activities of children in this way is an outrage of justice. Saudi Arabia must comply with international norms regarding the treatment of children.
We also condemn the use of the death penalty by Saudi Arabia, especially in cases where the supposed crime was simply speaking out against the corrupt regime.