We write to urge you to take immediate action to save the life of fourteen-year-old Egyptian national Ahmad al-D., resident of Dammam. A Saudi court sentenced him to death in July 2005 for the April 2004 murder – when he was thirteen years old – of his neighbor, three-year-old Wala’ `Adil `Abd al-Badi`, also an Egyptian citizen, in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
September 29, 2005
HE Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Maspero, Corniche El Nil
We write to urge you to take immediate action to save the life of fourteen-year-old Egyptian national Ahmad al-D., resident of Dammam. A Saudi court sentenced him to death in July 2005 for the April 2004 murder – when he was thirteen years old – of his neighbor, three-year-old Wala’ `Adil `Abd al-Badi`, also an Egyptian citizen, in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Thus far the victim’s family has refused to accept “blood money” (diya) to spare Ahmad’s life, leaving the case to go before the Saudi Court of Appeals and the High Judicial Council for review before it passes to the King Abdullah for final review.
Human Rights Watch is disturbed by the apparent failure of the Egyptian Embassy in Riyadh to act to protect Ahmad’s rights during his 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. In violation both of Saudi law and international human rights law, he was sentenced as an adult after a seriously flawed determination of his “maturity.”
We are also concerned by statements by Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials, quoted in the August 20-26, 2005 issue of Rose al-Yusif magazine, that show an alarming lack of concern for the psychological effects on a young child of long-term detention while awaiting execution. These comments also imply that the Egyptian government’s current actions on Mahmud’s behalf have been limited to efforts to convince the murder victim’s family to accept blood money, and have not included efforts to seek a royal commutation or other high level intervention by the Saudi government, or assist in raising the funds for a diya agreement.
According to press reports and information Human Rights Watch has received, Ahmad was questioned by Dammam police at least three times prior to his arrest, without the assistance of a lawyer or consular official. Either could have counseled the child on his rights under Saudi Arabian and international law, including the right not to be compelled to confess guilt. A defense lawyer or consular officials also could have collected information on extenuating circumstances that could have helped his defense. Indeed, it is 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 only 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, which Saudi Arabia ratified in February 1996, 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)). Saudi Law on Criminal Procedure Article 4 also assures the defendant the right to legal representation.
Equally disturbing, 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).
The Convention of the Rights of the Child strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty for offenses committed by persons less than eighteen years of age. As a party to the Convention, Egypt should strongly oppose the sentence against Ahmad on these grounds. 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 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 concerned about Ahmad’s psychological wellbeing and his access to appropriate medical and psychological services while in detention. Since his arrest he has been detained at the Dammam Dair al-Mulahitha al-Ijtima`iyya, a juvenile detention center, where he spent three months in solitary confinement. Conditions of detention and the uncertainty of his fate appear to have had severe negative psychological effects. In his al-Yaum al-Elektroni interview Ahmad stated that while in solitary confinement 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.”
Finally, Ahmad’s psychological state now and at the time of the crime also throws into doubt his capacity to stand trial and defend himself. Press accounts and statements by Saudi officials point to a deeply troubled child in need of care and rehabilitation rather than an adult who is fully responsible for his actions. The absence of adequate legal and consular assistance, combined with a deteriorating psychological state, may have contributed to Ahmad’s decision, reported in the al-Yaum al-Elektroni interview, to not contest the death sentence. Clearly, such an important decision should not be left in the hands of a young child in an extremely vulnerable psychological state.
Your Excellency, we call on you to take urgent action to:
- •Formally request that King Abdullah commute the death sentence against fourteen-year-old Ahmad al-D.
- •Ensure that Ahmad al-D. has adequate legal and other assistance, and highlight any previous procedural shortcomings during the appeal.
- •Conduct regular visits during his detention monitor his physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing and to ensure that his rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty are protected.
- •Assist settlement talks between the family of Ahmad al-D. and Wala’ `Adil `Abd al-Badi` and, should there be a settlement, facilitate efforts to raise the diya amount.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East & North Africa Division
Children's Rights Division