Saudi authorities released a man who had been sentenced to death as a child for protest-related crimes in a case that sparked international outcry.
Ali al-Nimr was 17 when he was detained in 2012 during anti-government protests by the kingdom’s Shiite Muslim minority.
In 2014, a court sentenced him to death for “crucifixion” – beheading followed by public display of his body.
The sentence was commuted in February after the king ended the death penalty for some crimes committed as children.
Saudi Arabia is among the top executioners in the world. He killed at least 40 people between January and July, more than in the whole of last year, when he held the presidency of the G20.
– sebastian usher (@sebusher) October 27, 2021
Ali al-Nimr is the grandson of the eminent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed for terrorist offenses by the Saudi authorities in 2016.
The sheikh was a vocal supporter of the Arab Spring-inspired protests that erupted in the eastern province in 2011. They were led by local Shiites, who have long complained that they are marginalized by the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia.
Ali al-Nimr was arrested during one of those protests in February 2012 and that was thereafter found guilty by a terrorist court of “breaking the alliance with the sovereign”, “repeating some chants against the state”, and attacking the police with Molotov cocktails and stones.
He denied the allegations and told the court that security officers extorted his “confession” through torture.
Four months later, the same court sentenced two other young Shia activists to death on similar charges related to the protest in a separate case.
Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoun, aged 15 and 17 respectively at the time of detention, also testified that they were beaten until they signed confessions.
Despite appeals for clemency from their families and human rights organizations, the three were held on death row until earlier this year, when the Saudi Human Rights Commission announced that their sentences had been commuted to prison sentences of 10 years.
The commission cited a 2018 law banning the death penalty for minors in some cases and an unpublished 2020 royal decree that allows the law to be applied retroactively.
Although Ali al-Nimr was released from prison on Wednesday, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoun remain behind bars. according to the Reprieve anti-death penalty charity.
Its director Maya Foa called the release a “tangible sign of progress,” but warned that Saudi Arabia still sentenced people to death for child crimes.
In June, another man convicted of protest-related offenses as a child was executed despite a partial moratorium on the death penalty. Mustafa al-Darwish, who was 17 when he was arrested in 2015, said he was tortured into making a false confession..
19-year-old Abdullah al-Howaiti, convicted of robbing a jewelry store and shooting a police officer when he was 14, is also currently on death row.
- Capital punishment
- Saudi Arabia
- Human rights in Saudi Arabia
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