Saudi child ‘offender’ Abdullah al-Howaiti gets death sentence at retrial

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After being convicted at a retrial of a crime he allegedly committed as a child, a Saudi man has been sentenced to death for a second time.

The Supreme Court had overturned the original conviction of Abdullah al-Howaiti last year. He was 14 years old when arrested in 2017 on charges of murder and armed robbery.

Al-Howaiti was first sentenced to death in 2019, after conviction by the Criminal Court in Tabuk province for shooting dead a policeman while robbing a jewellery shop in the town of Duba.

Human rights activists said CCTV footage, which was ignored by the judge during trial, showed he was not at the scene of the crime and that he was tortured into signing a false confession.

The Court of Appeal in Tabuk upheld the conviction in January 2021. But the Supreme Court threw it out in November and ordered a retrial.

Five other defendants were handed 15-year prison terms for allegedly aiding and abetting the crimes.

All six had pleaded not guilty, telling the judge that interrogators coerced their “confessions” through torture or the threat of it, human rights activists said.

“The Tabuk Criminal Court rules with injustice and sentences the minor Abdullah with qisas,” Howaiti’s mother Um Abdullah tweeted on Wednesday afternoon, referring to a crime under Sharia, or Islamic law, for which the victim or their family is given the right of retribution.

“After the Supreme Court overturned the first ruling because of false confessions, today it pronounces an unjust conviction just like last time.”

Um Abdullah appealed to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to intervene to save her son from the “injustice”.

Reprieve also condemned the verdict, saying it “makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia’s claim to have eliminated the death penalty for children”.

The Gulf kingdom, whose justice system is based on a strict interpretation of Sharia, announced in 2018 that a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison would be applied to juvenile offenders convicted of “tazir” crimes, for which punishments are left to the judge’s discretion.

However, the provision does not apply to two categories of crimes that carry fixed punishments – “qisas” offences, such as murder, and “hudud” offences considered against the rights of God, including adultery and apostasy. (Source: BBC)

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