A Saudi national currently on death row could be executed after a final ruling by the Supreme Court in Riyadh even though he was 14 at the time of the alleged crime, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
A criminal court in Tabuk in northern Saudi Arabia issued a death sentence for then 17-years old Abdullah Al-Huwaiti after he was charged with armed robbery of a jewellery store and the killing of a policeman in Duba Governorate.
Five others were convicted for their involvement in the crime, one of whom was also a child at the time of his arrest in May 2017, and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment and one thousand lashes.
The court also sentenced al-Huwaiti to pay upwards of 1,315,000 Saudi riyals (around US$350,000) in restitution to the victims.
All six had pleaded not guilty, telling the court during the trial that interrogators coerced their confessions through torture or the threat of it.
The court ignored the authorities’ own evidence that al-Huwaiti had an alibi, basing its verdict almost entirely on his and other defendants’ confessions.
While Saudi authorities announced an end to the death penalty for children for certain crimes in 2018 and applied this retroactively to previous cases in 2020, the death penalty remains a possible punishment for the type of crime Abdullah al-Huwaiti is accused of committing.
“Al-Huwaiti’s court proceedings flouted almost every internationally recognizable fair trial guarantee, and yet a Saudi court still sentenced him to die for a crime allegedly committed when he was 14,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“In sentencing a child to die while ignoring torture allegations, the Saudi court made a mockery of the country’s alleged ‘reforms’.”
Human Rights Watch reviewed the court documents in the men’s trial, a detailed notice of appeal submitted to an appeals court by al-Huwaiti’s lawyer in November 2020, snippets of CCTV footage at the crime scene, and a handwritten letter by al-Huwaiti that describes his torture and ill-treatment during questioning.
Al-Huwaiti said in the letter and to the court that interrogators subjected him to torture and ill-treatment to force him to confess.
Al-Huwaiti eventually signed the confession prepared for him, after which authorities transferred him to a social observation home in Tabuk where he told another investigator there that his confession had been forcibly extracted.
In 2018, four months after al-Huwaiti’s trial at the criminal court in Tabuk began, Saudi Arabia introduced the Juvenile Law, which sets a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for anyone who committed a crime before they turned 18.
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, which reported on al-Huwaiti’s case in 2019, said the case will be heard at the Supreme Court in Riyadh next. Saudi authorities should review the case and investigate allegations of torture.
“Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system will never gain credibility until it makes sweeping changes,” Page said. “At a bare minimum, Saudi Arabia should join the vast majority of countries by banning the death penalty for children in all cases without exception.” (Source: HRW)