Saudi Arabia has executed a 26-year-old man for crimes related to governmental rioting that he allegedly committed while he was a minor, rights groups Amnesty International and Reprieve said, condemning the execution.
According to Amnesty International, Mustafa al-Darwish may have been still a minor when he participated in riots between 2011 and 2012. He was sentenced to death in March 2018.
“Given that the official charge sheet does not specify the exact month the alleged crimes took place, Mustafa al-Darwish could have been either 17 or 18 at the time,” Amnesty said. The London-based rights organization Reprieve also said al-Darwish was 17 when he allegedly committed these offenses.
The Saudi government said al-Darwish “formed a terrorist cell with the aim of killing security personnel” amongst other crimes.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry confirmed that al-Darwish was executed in Dammam on Tuesday, according to the state-run Saudi Press agency (SPA). There is no mention of al-Darwish’s age in the SPA report.
Reprieve said in a statement that al-Darwish’s family received no advance notice of the execution and found out afterward by reading the news online.
The execution happened despite the fact that the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) said in a statement in April 2020 that Saudi Arabia was abolishing the death penalty for people who committed crimes as minors.
The statement said anyone who received a death sentence after being convicted of crimes they committed as a minor would instead be given a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility. However, it was unclear when the decision would be implemented.
The decree was not published in official Saudi state media.
At the time of the announcement, there were hopes the decree could potentially spare several men from the country’s Shia minority, who allegedly committed crimes as minors, from the death penalty.
Ali al-Nimr, an imprisoned anti-government protester, was the most prominent of these. The nephew of the executed firebrand cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Ali was arrested at the age of 17 and given a death sentence. That sentence was commuted in February this year, his father told CNN. Ali al-Nimr’s sentence was reduced to 10 years in jail by the Specialized Criminal Court, according to Reprieve.
In 2019, CNN reported on Saudi teen Murtaja Qureiris, who faced the death penalty for crimes he allegedly committed at the age of 13. The anti-government protester was spared execution after the report spurred an international outcry.
SPA quoted the Saudi Ministry of Interior as saying al-Darwish “launched an armed revolt against the ruler and destabilized security in this country by forming a terrorist network with the aim of killing security personnel, causing riots, provoking chaos, sectarian strife, making bombs with the intention of the breach with some members of that cell.”
According to Amnesty International, al-Darwish had only attended anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012. Amnesty International said that during his detention, al-Darwish “was placed in solitary confinement for six months and denied access to a lawyer for two years until the beginning of his trial, violating his right to a fair trial.”
“By carrying out this execution, the Saudi Arabian authorities have displayed a deplorable disregard for the right to life. He is the latest victim of Saudi Arabia’s deeply flawed justice system, which regularly sees people sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials based on confessions extracted through torture,” Amnesty added in its statement.