King Abdullah Should Commute Death Sentence, Ensure Courts Protect Rights
A 14-year-old Egyptian boy faces execution in Saudi Arabia after a flawed trial in which he was convicted for the murder of another child, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi King Abdullah should uphold the country’s obligations to protect children and due process by commuting the death sentence.
Neither the Saudi nor Egyptian government has responded to letters on the case that Human Rights Watch sent several weeks ago and made public today before the Eid holiday.
Following a seriously flawed trial, Ahmad al-D. was sentenced to death in July for the murder of three-year old Wala’ `Adil `Abd al-Badi` in Dammam in April 2004. The families of both children are Egyptian nationals living in Saudi Arabia. Wala’s parents have refused to accept blood money (diya) from Ahmad’s family, and Ahmad remains on death row in a juvenile detention facility in Dammam.
“Executing one child for the killing of another would only compound the tragedy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “King Abdullah should uphold Saudi Arabia’s international legal obligations by commuting this death sentence.”
Saudi Arabia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits capital punishment for offenses committed by individuals under 18 at the time of the crime and protects the rights of all children accused or convicted of crimes.
Saudi Arabia stated in its 2004 report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that the “Islamic Shariah in force in the Kingdom never imposes capital punishment on persons who have not attained their majority” and that “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”.
At every stage of the investigation, detention, trial and sentencing, the Saudi authorities violated Ahmad’s due process rights and well as international legal protections for children. He had no legal assistance or representation during interrogation, detention and trial. Press and police accounts also throw into question his psychological stability during this period and his ability to participate in his own defense. He told the Saudi online newspaper al-Yaum al-Elektroni that he confessed only after police questioned him for the third time because “my strength dwindled and I lacked the capacity to refuse.” He said that while in pre-trial solitary confinement for three months he “cried from fear and loneliness.”
Although he was only 13 at the time of the murder, the court tried and sentenced Ahmad as an adult, based on its assessment of the coarseness of his voice and the appearance of pubic hair. Children can benefit from adult provisions, such as the right to work where it is not hazardous or does not interfere with their right to education, but they may not be used to deny individuals under 18 rights guaranteed to them in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The court also reportedly refused his family’s request for a psychological exam that could have helped to establish diminished legal culpability, despite press accounts and statements by Saudi officials that point to a deeply troubled child in need of care and rehabilitation rather than an adult who is fully responsible for his actions.
“Sentencing Ahmad as an adult is an injustice, however serious the crime, because he lacks the maturity and judgment of an adult.” Whitson said. “King Abdullah should reverse that judgment”.
On September 22, Human Rights Watch wrote to King Abdullah urging him to commute Ahmad’s sentence to a punishment consistent with his age and culpability and to state publicly that Saudi Arabia does not impose the death penalty for offenses committed by persons under 18 at the time of the crime.
“King Abdullah needs to do what Saudi courts did not: provide a measure of justice for both of these children,” Whitson said. “Ahmad’s treatment in detention, trial and sentencing are contrary to international law, and this death sentence must not stand.”
The Egyptian consulate reportedly has made little effort to protect Ahmad’s due process rights or to intercede with Wala’s family in Saudi Arabia, although both families are Egyptian. In a letter to the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Watch on September 22 urged the foreign minister to make a formal request that King Abdullah commute the death sentence. The letter also urged Egyptian consular officials to visit Ahmad regularly during his detention to monitor his well-being and ensure that his rights are protected. Consular officials should also assist settlement talks between the families and, should facilitate a diya or other settlement.
At least four other persons are known to be facing death for crimes committed when they were children: a Mrs. S. from Khamis Mushayyit, Sadiq A. in Qatif, Mr. A. in Jazan, and an unnamed person in Jeddah reportedly convicted of murdering his rapists. The last confirmed execution of a child in Saudi Arabia occurred in 1992.
Saudi Arabia ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996. The treaty prohibits capital punishment and sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release for persons under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. It also guarantees children accused of a crime the right to legal or other assistance in the preparation and presentation of their defense, and the right not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt. In addition, U.N. guidelines on juvenile justice (known as the “Beijing Rules”) prohibit the use of solitary confinement, and call on states to make determinations of adult competence based on “emotional, mental and intellectual maturity,” not the physical maturity, of the child.
The Saudi Law on Criminal Procedure in article 4 guarantees every defendant the right to a lawyer.