Middle East

Saudi Arabia commutes three death sentences, UN experts urge charges be dropped 

Independent UN human rights experts welcomed on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s decision to commute the death sentences of three men for crimes they had allegedly committed when they were minors and urged the Kingdom to overturn their convictions and release them. 

 

Five UN rights experts called Saudi Arabia’ decision to re-sentence to 10 years, the imprisonment of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher “an important step towards compliance with the country’s international human rights obligations”, particularly under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits executions for crimes committed by persons under the age of 18. 

They highlighted that the sentencing commutations were based on the March 2020 Royal Order, which provides that any individual who received a death sentence for crimes committed as a minor would no longer face execution but instead, receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile facility.  

“Serious concerns remain in relation to the young men’s convictions and continued detention that must now be resolved urgently”, the experts said. 

Allegations of torture 

The three were arrested and sentenced to death for charges considered by the experts to have criminalized their fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and expression.  

Unfortunately, I don’t understand what crime they committed, only that they were jailed and it violated their rights. 

The youths were allegedly tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment, forced to confess, denied adequate legal assistance and access to an effective complaint mechanism. 

“We reiterate our call to the authorities to release Mr. Ali al-Nimr, Mr. Dawood al-Marhoon and Mr. Abdullah al-Zaher or, at the very least, to retry them in accordance with international law and standards, without delay”, asserted the experts. 

Others on death row 

They also expressed deep concern for the fate of all those who remain on death row, including Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who was also sentenced to death for a crime allegedly committed when he was a minor after a trial marred by torture allegations.  

Notwithstanding the March 2020 Royal Order, Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty continues to violate international law, according to the UN experts.  

“We continue to receive allegations of torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions, and in relation to the imposition of the death penalty for crimes which do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’, required under international law”, they said, reiterating that “under no circumstances” should the death penalty be applied to anyone “exercising their fundamental rights of freedoms of expression, assembly and religion or belief”. 

Urging the Government 

The independent experts called on the Saudi Government to “officially confirm the moratorium on executions for drug offences, announced in January 2021 but not yet codified”.  

They also advocated for a halt on all pending executions in the country, the prompt establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty and to consider its “complete abolition”. 

Click here for the names of the experts. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. They are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

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