Saudi Arabia commutes death sentences of child protesters

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Saudi Arabia has commuted the death sentence of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr who was arrested as a teenager to 10 years in jail, as the kingdom comes under scrutiny from the Biden administration over its human rights record.

The decision in the case of al-Nimr follows a royal order last year that called for re-sentencing death row prisoners whose alleged crimes were committed as minors.

Saudi authorities arrested al-Nimr in 2012, aged 16, during protests by Shi`a citizens who are subjects of longstanding discrimination in the Sunni majority kingdom.

For four months, authorities prevented the boy’s family from visiting him in detention. Nobody informed them when he finally saw a judge after 13 months in jail.

Saudi Arabia’s terrorism court held three hearings before letting al-Nimr appoint a lawyer, whom he was then barred from meeting.

Al-Nimr’s charges included vague accusations of attacking security forces, as well as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “repeating some chants against the state.”

In 2014, the court sentenced al-Nimr to death, but he was not the only alleged child offender put on death row.

In a related case, the court also sentenced two others arrested while still children, Dawoud al-Marhoun and Abdullah al-Zaher, to the same fate. The three were convicted almost solely on the basis of their confessions, which they said were coerced by torture.

On February 08, the Saudi Human Rights Commission announced that the authorities had reduced the death sentences against all three to 10-year prison terms, under a 2018 law that prohibits the death penalty for child offenders in some cases and a 2020 decree that allows the law to be applied retroactively.

Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman also announced the government would finally establish a criminal code that will “protect human rights.” The developments offer a glimmer of hope that the country’s appalling criminal justice system might improve. (Source: HRW)

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