Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has ordered a review of the death penalties that were issued for three detainees who committed crimes when they were minors, following a royal decree by King Salman earlier this year ending executions for such individuals.
The prisoners, who include Ali Al-Nimr, Dawoud Al-Marhoon and Abdullah Al-Zaher, were sentenced to death in 2016 over their reported participation in anti-government protests, judged as a crime allegedly related to terrorism. They were minors at the time of their arrests, with Al-Nimr and Al-Marhoon having been arrested at the age of 17 in 2012, and Al-Zaher arrested in 2011 when he was 15 years old.
Al-Nimr, the nephew of Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr who was executed in Saudi, Al-Marhoon and Al-Zaher, were sentenced to death in 2016 for terrorism-related crimes committed before they had reached the age of 18.
Their sentences were delayed and brought into question, however, when King Salman issued a royal decree in April this year ruling that the kingdom would no longer use the death penalty on those convicted as minors, and that such individuals can instead be imprisoned for a maximum of ten years in juvenile detention facilities.
It also ruled that those minors who had already served ten years or more would be released following a review of their case.
The order for the review, made possible by that new decree, was hailed by the president of the state-backed Saudi Human Rights Commission Awwad Al-Awwad, who said: “These referrals mark important progress in faithfully implementing an important reform in the legal system, and in advancing human rights in Saudi Arabia.”
Since the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in 2011, which spread throughout the Middle East and briefly touched Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s human rights record has come under intense scrutiny.
Controversy over its human rights record was brought into the spotlight once again after the assassination of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018, and it was revealed in January this year that the kingdom executed a record number of 184 people in 2019.