Saudi Arabia will no longer impose the death penalty on people who committed crimes while they were still minors, the country’s Human Rights Commission president Awwad Alawwad said in a statement.
The announcement, citing a royal decree by King Salman, comes two days after the country said it would abolish flogging.
“Instead, the individual will receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility,” the statement said.
The decree is expected to spare the lives of at least six men from the minority Shia community who are on death row. They were accused of taking part in anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings while they were under the age of 18.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which Riyadh has signed – says capital punishment should not be used for offences carried out by minors.
“This is an important day for Saudi Arabia,” said Awwad Alawwad.
“The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code.”
The reforms underscore a push by de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to modernise the ultra-conservative kingdom long associated with a fundamentalist strain of Wahhabi Islam.
The kingdom has one of the world’s highest rates of execution, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.
Saudi Arabia executed at least 187 people in 2019, according to a tally based on official data, the highest since 1995 when 195 people were put to death.
Since January 12 people have been executed, according to official data.
Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy governed under a strict form of Islamic law.
On Saturday, the HRC announced Saudi Arabia had effectively abolished flogging as a punishment, which have long drawn condemnation from human rights groups.
The most high-profile instance of flogging in recent years was the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 on charges of “insulting” Islam.
It was unclear when the decision – which was not immediately carried on state media – would come into effect.
The kingdom’s human rights record has remained under intense scrutiny, despite recent changes, following the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, while many civil rights and women’s rights activists remain in prison.
Earlier this week, the most prominent Saudi human rights campaigner died in jail after a stroke which fellow activists say was due to medical neglect by the authorities. (Source: The Guardian)