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Men hold placards bearing portraits of a prominent Shia Muslim cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution sparked demonstrations in 2016 by the country's minority Shia citizens against systematic governmental discrimination. Some of the alleged child offenders currently on trial were accused of attending similar protests.   © 2016 STR/AFP via Getty Images

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia’s court of appeal in April 2024 approved death sentences for two Saudi men for protest-related crimes allegedly committed as children, Human Rights Watch and 26 other organizations said today in a joint statement. Saudi authorities should immediately halt executions for child offenders.

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Appellate Court upheld the death penalty sentences for Yousif al-Manasif and Ali al-Mabyook, for alleged crimes they committed when they were between the ages of 14 and 17 and referred the cases to the Supreme Court for final approval. Al-Manasif and al-Mabyook, both from the eastern province, where most of the country’s Shi’a minority live, were arrested between April 2017 and January 2018 and appeared before a court in 2019.

“Saudi Arabia is investing billions of dollars in major entertainment and sporting events to distract from its repressive rights environment, while people charged with crimes as children remain on death row,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should quash the decision to execute al-Manasif and al-Mabyook and start living up to its promise to end the child death penalty.”

The charges on which the young men were convicted were almost entirely based on their confessions. Human Rights Watch has  documented rampant abuses in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, including coerced confessions against children later sentenced to death, that make it highly unlikely that al-Manasif and al-Mabyook received a fair trial. At least five people sentenced to death as children remain in danger of execution at any moment.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a party, includes an absolute prohibition on capital punishment for crimes committed by children. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances as it is unique in its cruelty and finality and is inevitably plagued with arbitrariness and error.

“If the Saudi leadership genuinely wants to be seen as a rights-respecting country, it needs to immediately halt all execution orders and commute all death sentences, including the egregious cases of al-Manasif and al-Mabyook.” Shea said.

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