October 27, 2005

Human Rights Watch urges you to immediately commute the death sentence of Ahmad al-D., an Egyptian boy resident in Dammam, who was convicted for a crime committed when he was thirteen years old.

September 22, 2005

HRH King Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Royal Court
Riyadh
11111
Saudi Arabia

Your Highness,

Human Rights Watch urges you to immediately commute the death sentence of Ahmad al-D., an Egyptian boy resident in Dammam, who was convicted for a crime committed when he was thirteen years old. A Saudi court in Dammam in July 2005 sentenced Ahmad to death for the April 2004 murder of three-year-old Wala’ `Adil `Abd al-Badi`, also an Egyptian resident in Dammam. Thus far the victim’s family has refused to accept “blood money” (diya) to spare Ahmad’s life. The case will now go before the Court of Appeals and the High Judicial Council for review before it passes to you for final review. This case has been marked by serious violations of the right to a fair trial and other fundamental human rights. We urge you to prevent further violations by using your good offices and order an immediate commutation of Ahmad’s sentence.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 1996, prohibits the death penalty for offenses committed by persons less than eighteen years of age under any circumstances (article 37). This prohibition recognizes a child’s diminished capacity: persons under eighteen lack the experience, judgment, maturity, and restraint of an adult, and thus should not be held equally culpable even in instances of the most serious crimes. In its November 12, 2004 report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia stated that in the Kingdom, “a juvenile is defined under the Detention Regulation and the Juvenile Homes’ Regulation of A.H. 1395 (1975) as every human being below the age of 18,” and “[t]he “Islamic Shari`a in force in the Kingdom never imposes capital punishment on persons who have not attained their majority.”

Human Rights Watch is deeply disturbed by a lack of protection of Ahmad’s rights during interrogation, detention, trial and sentencing. Ahmad had no legal assistance or representation during interrogation, detention and trial and was kept in solitary confinement for three months following his arrest. Ahmad was sentenced as an adult, but the determination of his maturity was seriously flawed.

The total absence of legal assistance during interrogation and trial is especially disturbing, given the seriousness of the charge and the potential punishments. This absence is compounded by the failure of the police investigators, the Court, and the Egyptian Consulate to inform Ahmad of his rights during interrogation, including the right to not be compelled to confess guilt. Indeed, it is quite likely that he was not aware of the grave consequences of a confession to murder. According to an interview with Ahmad published in the August 27, 2005 issue of Al-Yaum al-Elektroni, Ahmad did not initially volunteer information, but confessed after his third interview with the police, when, he said, “my strength dwindled and I lacked the capacity to refuse.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees every child accused of a crime the right to have legal or other appropriate assistance in the preparation and presentation of his or her defense and at trial, and to not be compelled to give testimony or confess guilt (articles 40(2)(b) and 37(d)).

Human Rights Watch is concerned about Ahmad’s psychological well-being and his access to appropriate medical and psychological services while in detention. In his Al-Yaum al-Elektroni interview, Ahmad stated that while in solitary confinement at the Dair al-Mulahitha al-Ijtima`iyya in Dammam, a juvenile detention center, he “cried from fear and loneliness,” and that, he still suffered from sleeplessness “because of nightmares and horrible dreams.” The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty prohibits the use of “closed or solitary confinement or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health of the juvenile concerned.”

Ahmad’s psychological state now and at the time of the crime also throws into doubt his capacity to stand trial and defend himself, especially without legal assistance. Ahmad’s family and that of the victim, three-year old Egyptian Wala’, were neighbors at the time of the crime, and Wala’s father, a school teacher, tutored Ahmad. According to some press accounts, Wala’s father castigated the then-thirteen-year-old Ahmad for his lack of abilities shortly before Ahmad allegedly coaxed the girl into a nearby park and stabbed and killed her, suggesting that he might have acted in a fit of rage. According to other press reports, the murder took place after Ahmad became angry with the girl because she repeatedly interfered with his games. The head of the Dammam police, Brigadier General `Abd al-`Aziz al-Watban, told al-Yaum al-Sa`udiyya shortly after the crime that “there were a mix of motives and not a single motive. Among the factors was the severity of the victim’s father toward [Ahmad] when he was tutoring him in the English language, and the sick and conflicted psychological state of the child that was distinguished by its wickedness and cunning, especially when he was confessing, and his face was covered with a wide smile.”

These accounts point to a deeply troubled in need of care and rehabilitation rather than an adult who is fully responsible for his actions. Yet the Court does not appear to have made a serious attempt to determine Ahmad’s legal culpability, including his mental and emotional state at the time of the crime and his psychological maturity. At no time during the trial did the Dammam Court order Ahmad’s psychological evaluation, according to information Ahmad’s father relayed to Human Rights Watch. Instead, it relied on a physical examination by its judges and a forensic medical team to determine Ahmad’s legal maturity for trial and sentencing as an adult. Al-Riyadh newspaper reported in August 2005 that the examination relied on Ahmad’s “hoarseness of his voice” and appearance of pubic hair to qualify him as an adult. The U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice call upon states to make determinations of adult competence based on “emotional, mental and intellectual maturity,” not the physical maturity of the child (rule 4).

Human Rights Watch calls on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as an urgent matter, to take the following steps:

    •Commute Ahmad's death sentence to a punishment commensurate with his crime, consistent with Ahmad’s culpability and age and requirements for his rehabilitation and continued education.
    •State publicly and clearly, in keeping with its legal obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that it neither imposes nor carries out the death penalty for crimes committed by a person who was under eighteen years of age at the time of the crime.
    •Facilitate visits to Ahmad by family members, consular officials, and legal counsel.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East & North Africa Division

Lois Whitman
Executive Director
Children's Rights Division