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In September 2018, amid Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty to eliminate opinion-makers, dissidents, protestors, and children by relying on religious texts and extremist interpretations, the Saudi public prosecution,which is directly linked to Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, made a dramatic request for the crucifixion of minor Murtaja Qureiris, the youngest political prisoner in the country, based on charges lodged against him when he was 11 years old.
Murtaja (born on 24 October 2000) was arrested at the age of 14, and placed in an observation home [Saudi juvenile detention facility]. He had been arrested on 20 September 2014 by workers at the King Fahd Causeway when he was on his way with members of his family to say good-bye to his traveling father. There was no prior summons, and the causeway employee simply mentioned that he was wanted by the Mabahith, without explaining the legal justifications or showing the arrest warrant.
During the period of investigation, Murtaja was subjected to coercion and deception by the interrogators. He remained in solitary confinement for a month, during which he was tortured and beaten, and he was also promised repeatedly that he would be released if he cooperated with the investigation and admitted the charges against him. The observation homes are not considered a safe place for children because torture and cruel and degrading treatment are practiced there, as well as allegations of employees committing sexual crimes against the children. In a previous report, the ESOHR noted these practices and called for them to be investigated.
In May 2017, after Saudi Arabia promised to release him, Murtaja was transferred to a notorious Mabahith prison for adults, even though he was only 16 at the time. Mabahith prisons are known in Saudi Arabia for their routine use of torture and inhuman treatment.
Saudi Arabia’s killing of juveniles in two mass executions, one in January in 2016 and the other in April 2019, represents the beginning of the escalation of its blatant disregard for children’s right to life. These executions took place as a result of many arrests related to demonstrations that began in early 2011. Most of the charges are not classified as serious crimes, and the death sentences stem from an extremist approach used by the judiciary, exceeding all official statements long denying the government’s use and implementation of the death penalty against minors.
According to available statistics, the number of minors sentenced to death is currently four. Besides Murtaja, detainees Ali Al Nimr, Daoud al-Marhoun, and Abdullah al-Zaher could face decapitation at any time as a result of the final death sentences issued against them approximately four years ago, after farcical trials that lacked the most basic standards of justice.
Murtaja has been deprived of most of his basic rights. Most notably, he was completely denied access to any legal support or counsel for nearly four years after his arrest, and he was not permitted to do so until after his trial began. During his first court hearing in August 2018, the Prosecutor-General charged him with a mixture of charges. Some of the charges concerned his participation in demonstrations and forms of protest such as shouting demands for rights or expressing political opinions, while others involved broad charges such as provoking sectarian strife, terrorism, and riots. He was also charged with carrying a loudspeaker during the course of the demonstrations, firing at a diplomatic vehicle and armored cars, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at a police station, monitoring police vehicle and armored cars, possessing a pistol, shutting down streets with burning tires, and disobeying the ruler.
The public prosecution did not present any physical evidence in his case, making it clear that the charges stemmed from confessions and testimony against Murtaja from other prisoners, some of whom had been monitored by the ESOHR for previous exposure to torture, intimidation, and coercion.
Saudi Arabia consistently maintains that it does not use the death penalty except for the most serious crimes such as premeditated murder. However, this does not hold true for a large proportion of the executions, including Murtaja, who himself has not been charged with murder.
To justify its demand for the death and crucifixion of Murtaja, the public prosecution gathered several religious texts that discuss the taboo of premeditated murder, even though Murtaja was not charged with murder or even injuring anyone. The public prosecution also did not present concrete evidence of his possession of a firearm. In the ESOHR’s opinion, this makes plain not only Saudi Arabia’s use of extremist interpretations of religious texts to eliminate demonstrators and opinion-makers, but also it’s very flawed use of religious texts, clearly taking them out of context to add religious legitimacy to its unjust sentences.
In addition, the threat to crucify Murtaja represents a complete neglect of the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, issued in January 2017, in which the Working Group published its opinion on the case of a minor (born in 2000) detained in Saudi Arabia and demanded his immediate release because of the violations he had encountered.
Saudi Arabia paid lip service to updating the law for juveniles, stating in November 2018, that it would not issue the death sentence against any child and would commute death sentences to ten years in prison. Nevertheless, Murtaja’s case is added to the execution of at least six minors in April 2019, which confirms the lack of seriousness in Saudi laws and that official bodies themselves ignore domestic regulations.
The ESOHR believes that the death sentence against minor Murtaja Qureiris is a clear and blatant violation of all domestic laws and international treaties joined by Saudi Arabia. The ESOHR stressed that the threat to Murtaja’s life is the biggest psychological burdenon his family. His older brother, activist Ali Qureiris, was intentionally killed by Saudi security forces gunfire targeting peaceful demonstrators on 23 December 2011. Despite his deteriorating health, his father, Abdullah, was arrested because of his human rights advocacy, and his activist brother, Rida, has been in the Mabahith prison in Dammam since 1 June 2014. This is the pattern for dozens of persecuted families in Saudi Arabia, through whom the government sends messages of intimidation to families and activists.
The continued killing and threatening of the lives of children invalidates Saudi Arabia’s promotion of reforms and changes in the area of human rights. It also confirms the need to hold the government accountable for its repeated violations, especially given its role as a member-state on the Human Rights Council for the fourth time and its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.