UPDATE (March 12): Human Rights Watch contacted one of the seven convicted men in prison by telephone on the evening of March 12. The man said that Saudi authorities had informed the seven men that the authorities planned to execute the men on March 13.
UPDATE (March 6): On March 5, relatives of the seven convicted men told media outlets that Asir Province Governor Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abd al-Aziz had ordered the postponement of the executions while the royal court in Riyadh reviews the case.
The news release below was corrected to update the name of Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz.
(Beirut)– King Abdullah and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud should immediately intervene to halt the executions of seven young men scheduled for March 5, 2013. The seven include at least two child offenders, sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under 18.
All seven men were between 16 and 20 when authorities arrested them in 2006 for allegedly committing a robbery in 2005. Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries worldwide known to have executed people in the past two years for crimes committed when they were children. There is strong evidence suggesting that the trials of all seven men violated basic principles of the right to a fair trial.
“It will be outrageous if the Saudi authorities go ahead with these executions,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It is high time for the Saudis to stop executing child offenders and start observing their obligations under international human rights law.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Saudi Arabia ratified in 1996, prohibits the death penalty or life sentences without parole for offenses committed under age 18.
The seven young men have been under sentence of death since August 2009, when the General Court in Abha, in the south-western part of the country, convicted them of a robbery committed in 2005. The Sabq news agency reported that the seven men allege that they were denied legal assistance or the opportunity to defend themselves during their trial.
Human rights activists monitoring the case told Human Rights Watch that the seven also allege that security force interrogators at the Criminal Investigation Department in Abha beat them, denied them food, water, and sleep, and forced them to stand for extended periods during their detention to force them to sign confessions.
A statement reportedly released by the seven men and distributed online by rights activists also says that their interrogators threatened the seven men with violence against them and their family members if they denied the accuracy of the signed statements in court. According to the statement, the interrogators were also present during the trial to intimidate them into supporting the confessions. The trial court is not known to have investigated these allegations. One of the seven men, Sarhan al-Mashayekh, faces execution by crucifixion as ringleader of the group, while the six others are to face a firing squad. Their names are Saeed al-Omari, Ali al-Shebri, Nasser al-Qahtani, Saeed al-Shahrawi, Abdulaziz al-Amri, and Ali al-Qahtani.
Saudi Arabia has no criminal code. Consequently, judges have wide discretion to impose sentences based on their personal interpretation of Sharia law and without taking into account previous rulings by other judges, so that people convicted of similar crimes may receive significantly different sentences. This wide discretion also allows Saudi judges to treat children as adults in criminal cases, and courts have imposed death sentences on children as young as 13.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.
“By continuing its liberal use of the death penalty, Saudi Arabia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons,” Goldstein said. “The planned execution of seven men, including juveniles, based on flimsy evidence and without due representation, encapsulates all that is wrong with the Saudi justice system.”