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Saudis to review all death sentences for childhood crimes

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The Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) has announced that the death sentences of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher have been referred for review, as a result of a recent royal decree mandating that the maximum punishment for childhood crimes should be ten years imprisonment.

Abdullah was 15 years old when he was detained in 2011. Ali and Dawood were 17 when they were arrested the following year. The alleged crimes they were convicted of included organising anti-regime demonstrations, showing protesters how to perform first aid, and disobedience to the King. They were sentenced to death in 2015 and have been on death row ever since.

Today’s Saudi HRC press release further states that the sentences of all people convicted of childhood crimes will be reviewed: “According to the Royal Order issued earlier this year, all authorities are mandated with halting application of the death penalty for those convicted of crimes committed while they were minors. Authorities are instructed to review such cases and re-sentence individuals based on the Saudi Juvenile Law.”

The Royal Order has not been published. The families of Ali, Dawood and Abdullah have not been notified of any change in their circumstances, and the three young men apparently remain on death row.

There are currently four people convicted of childhood crimes at risk of execution in Saudi Arabia, and prosecutors continue to seek death sentences against a further nine juveniles, including Mohammed al-Faraj, who was arrested aged 15 and charged with offences that include attending a funeral when he was nine years old.

Reprieve Director Maya Foa said: “If the Saudi authorities are true to their word, and the death sentences of all people convicted of childhood crimes are to be reviewed, then this is a hugely positive development. They now need to publish the decree, and expeditiously commute the sentences in question. Ali, Dawood and Abdullah were imprisoned as boys, and have spent almost a decade of their youth in fear of execution. To make good on its promises of reform, the Saudi regime should set them free.”

ESOHR Director Ali al-Dubaisi said: “The abolition of the death penalty for all children in Saudi Arabia would be a tremendous step forward for human rights, not only in Saudi Arabia, but in the entire Gulf region. However, there are still nine people facing death sentences for childhood crimes – how their cases proceed will determine whether Saudi Arabia can truly claim to have stopped executing children.”

Taha al-Hajji, ESOHR Legal Consultant and Attorney for Ali al-Nimr, said: “The dark cloud of his execution has cast a shadow on Ali since he was 15. It took nine years of his life for that cloud to disappear, but he is finally safe from the death penalty. I now look to the government to deliver him securely into the arms of his family.”

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