Saudi Arabia commutes death sentences of three minors; urged to drop charges


UN human rights experts welcomed Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to commute the death sentences given to three individuals for crimes allegedly committed when they were minors, and urged the kingdom to quash their convictions and release them.

“We welcome the important announcement of the Saudi Human Rights Commission to commute the death sentences of Mr. Ali al-Nimr, Mr.Dawood al-Marhoon and Mr. Abdullah al-Zaher, who have been re-sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, inclusive of time served,” said the experts.

“This decision is 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.”

The experts noted that the commutation of sentences was based on the March 2020 Royal Order which provides that any individual who received a death sentence for crimes committed while being a minor would no longer face execution.

Instead, the individual would 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.

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.

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.

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.

They also reiterated 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”.

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”. (Source: UN News)