Earlier last week, the White House affirmed that the US president will be travelling to Saudi Arabia later this month, where he will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The visit is a part of a July 13-16 Middle East trip that includes stops in Israel and the West Bank.
The declaration of the planned visit came after a Saudi man has been sentenced to death for a second time after being convicted at a retrial of a crime he allegedly committed as a child.
Rights activists expressed shock over the decision, especially since Saudi Arabia has earlier decided to end the use of the death penalty against people below the age of 18 at the time of the crime in cases not involving the counter-terror law.
Abdullah al-Howaiti was 14 years old when he was arrested in 2017 on charges of murder and armed robbery.
Human rights activists said CCTV footage showed he was not at the scene of the crime and that he was tortured into signing a false confession.
Abdullah al-Howaiti was first sentenced to death in 2019, after he was convicted by the Criminal Court in Tabuk province of shooting dead a policeman while robbing a jewellery shop in the town of Duba.
Five other defendants were handed 15-year prison terms for allegedly aiding and abetting the crimes.
All six had pleaded not guilty, telling the judge that interrogators coerced their “confessions” through torture or the threat of it. The judge also ignored CCTV footage showing that Howaiti was not near the jewelers at the time of the crime.
We confirm that the ruling totally violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the national juvenile law which prevents the death sentences against those below 15-year-old.
Biden claimed he’s looking to reset the relationship with Saudi Arabia at a time when the US could use help from the oil-rich kingdom to alleviate soaring prices at the pump for motorists at home and around the globe.
However, we stress that such a visit without first getting human rights commitments would send a message to Saudi leaders that there are no consequences for egregious rights violations.
The visit is a dramatic change in Biden’s stance on the kingdom that he pledged to make a “pariah” as a Democratic candidate for the White House following Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination.