Saudi Arabian courts can impose the death penalty for a broad variety of offenses, and the government executed at least 158 persons in 2007.64 Saudi Arabia does not publish official statistics on death sentences and executions, and information on death sentences for juvenile offenders is difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, it is clear that Saudi courts have sentenced a significant number of children and youth to death for crimes committed while under age 18. The Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the imposition of capital punishment and life imprisonment without possibility of release for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age.65
Both Sharia and Saudi Arabian statutory law allow for the death penalty. Capital offenses include adultery, apostasy, corruption on earth, drug trafficking, sabotage, (political) rebellion, and murder during armed robbery. 66 Under Sharia, murder and manslaughter are considered to be primarily offenses against a private right (qisas).67 Thus, while courts often impose the death penalty for murder or manslaughter, in these qisas cases the deceaseds family retains the right to insist on execution, accept monetary compensationknown as blood money (diya), or issue a pardon. If the family agrees to accept blood money in exchange for dropping its private claim, it can demand any amount it sees fit, and specify any time limit for payment it chooses.68 The court can also impose the death penalty as a discretionary punishment (tazir ) for actions it deems to be criminal, and Saudi Arabia is known to have executed persons convicted of witchcraft, most recently on November 2, 2007.69 Executions generally are by public beheading, although executions for adultery may be by stoning.
According to Minister of Justice `Abd Allah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim Al al-Shaikh, under Sharia an individual who has reached majority (bulugh) can be executed, provided he is of sound mind. Determinations of majority are based on factors specified by experts in Islamic jurisprudence, including a 2002 Council of Senior Scholars decree. That decree states that majority is obtained when any one of four conditions are met: for males or females, 1) attaining 15 years of age; 2) occurrence of wet dreams (al-ihtilam); 3) appearance of pubic hair; or, in the case of girls, 4) upon menstruation.70 Other officials told Human Rights Watch that executions could be carried out in qisas cases from age 15 if the victims family demanded it, but not until age 18 in other capital offenses.71
Judges appear to make decisions based on physical characteristics of puberty at the time of trial or sentencing; such characteristics frequently are present long before an individual has reached the internationally recognized age of majority of 18 (see above). In practice, this means that even young children may be sentenced to death. For example, in July 2005 a judge in Dammam sentenced the then-14-year-old Ahmad al-Dukkani to death for a murder it found he committed when he was 13. The court reportedly made its decision to try and sentence the boy as an adult based on a physical examination that measured the hoarseness of [his] voice and the appearance of body hair.72 According to information al-Dukkanis father relayed to Human Rights Watch, the court also refused the familys request that it give al-Dukkani a psychological evaluation that might have supported their claim of diminished culpability.73 Muhammad al-Qahs, sentenced to death for killing his would-be rapist when he was 16, told Human Rights Watch that the court did not conduct any examination to evaluate his mental, intellectual, or physical development at the time of the crime nor make any comments on his age or physical appearance when deciding to try him as an adult.74 Court documents do not address his age as a mitigating factor in deciding the sentence.75
Saudi Arabia rarely makes public information on persons under 18 sentenced to death, and often childrens families are reluctant to publicize these cases unless and until they have lost hope of resolving the case through private interventions.76 Human Rights Watch is aware of at least 12 cases where individuals have been sentenced to death for crimes committed while children. The most recent reported execution of a juvenile offender took place on August 20, 2007.
Investigations conducted by Saudi Arabian journalists suggest that a significant number of children are at risk of execution after turning 18. For example, an October 2006 investigation of the Jeddah Social Observation Home by Arab News that included interviews with the director and detainees reported that 40 of the 220 detainees were boys under age 16 charged with murder, a charge that, if they were tried as adults and found guilty, carries the death penalty.77 In November 2005 alarabiya.net, the online arm of Saudi Arabiasal-`Arabiya satellite news station, reported that Saudi Arabias Ministry of Social Affairs was detaining 126 children in social observation homes for committing murder, with the largest number of children held in boys homes in Mekkah (39), Dammam (26), and Riyadh (19).78 These last numbers appear to be Ministry of Social Affairs statistics for 2003 that Saudi Arabia provided to the Committee on the Rights of the Child during the committees January 2006 review of the country.79
On December 2, 2006, Human Rights Watch visited the Riyadh Social Observation Home, one of 13 Ministry of Social Affairs reformatories for boys ages 12 to 18 who are under investigation, on trial, or convicted of crimes.80 The director told Human Rights Watch that some children at the facility had been sentenced to death in qisas cases but that the victims families had ceded their right to seek the death penalty; thus, none of the 274 children currently held there were facing the death penalty.81 The Ministry of Social Affairs did not permit Human Rights Watch to speak to detainees to confirm this information, and at this writing has not responded to our requests for up-to-date statistics on death penalty cases against detainees in its custody.82 Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that all of the 19 cases reported in Riyadh in 2003 were resolved within three years by victims families ceding their right to retribution, and that no new death sentences were imposed since then in a region that is home to 22.63 percent of Saudi Arabias population.83 Alternatively, it is quite possible that some of the boys included in the 19 earlier cases had, by 2006, turned 18 and been transferred to the adult prison system, where they would also be eligible for execution.
Human Rights Watch is aware of at least 12 cases involving individuals sentenced to death for crimes committed while under age 18: 84
64 A number of groups track executions based on press accounts and other unofficial sources, among them Amnesty International. That organization reported on February 8, 2008, that at least 158 people, including three women, were executed in 2007, and the rate of executions has increased in 2008, with at least 25 people, including three women, executed since 8 January. Saudi Arabia: Further information on Death sentence: Rizana Nafeek (f), Amnesty International Urgent Action, AI Index: MDE 23/006/2008, February 8, 2008, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE23/006/2008 (accessed February 10, 2008).
65 Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 37(a).
66 For a discussion of death penalty offenses, see Amnesty International, Defying World Trends: Saudi Arabias extensive use of capital punishment, AI Index: MDE 23/015/2001, November 1, 2001, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engMDE230152001 (accessed July 5, 2007).
67 Qisas is one of three broad categories of criminal punishment in Saudi law. For a detailed discussion of these categories, see Human Rights Watch, Precarious Justice.
68 For example, in March 2007, last-minute donations of 2 million Saudi Arabian riyal (about US$533,400) by Crown Prince Sultan bin `Abd al-`Aziz and 1.9 million riyal (about $506,700) by Governor of Riyadh Prince Salman bin `Abd al-`Aziz were credited in avoiding the execution of 19-year-old `Abd al-Majid bin Mubarak al-`Anizi. According to press accounts, a court had sentenced al-`Anizi to death for the accidental murder of a friend when he was 17. On May 1, 2006 ( 3/4/1427), the murder victims family agreed to spare al-`Anizis life in exchange for a blood money payment of 10 million riyal (about $2.68 million), to be paid within one year of the agreement, but by early March 2007 the family had only managed to raise 6.1 million riyal (about $1.63 million). See 1.9 Million Riyal from the Departed King Fahd Saves the Neck Sentenced to Retribution (1.9 miliyun riyal min al-malik al-rahil Fahd tu`taq ruqbat mahkum `alaihi bil-qasas: Awidi`hu amana lada al-amir Salman lisarfih fi awjah al-khair), al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 19, 2007, http://www.asharqalawsat.com/details.asp?section=1&issue=10338&article=411298 (accessed May 21, 2007); Shaikh al-Ayda Offered Thanks to Both of Them for Their Humanitarian Efforts to Save the Neck of `Abd al-Majid al-`Anizi: Prince Salman Paid 1.9 Million Riyal from Funds King Fahd Left (Al-Shaikh al-Ayda qaddam shukrihu lahuma limubadaratahuma al-insaniyya li`taq ruqbat `Abd al-Majid al-`Anzi; Al-Amir Salman dafa` 1.9 milyun riyal fi amana tarakha al-malik Fahd), al-Jazirah (Riyadh), March 23, 2007, http://www.al-jazirah.com.sa/109074/ln65.htm (accessed May 21, 2007).
69 Saudi Arabia: Halt Womans Execution for Witchcraft: Fawza Falihs Case Reveals Deep Flaws in Saudi Justice System, Human Rights Watch news release, February 14, 2008, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/14/saudia18051.htm; and Human Rights Watch, Saudi ArabiaFlawed Justice: The Execution of `Abd al-Karim al-Naqshabandi, vol. 9, no. 9, October 1, 1997, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/saudi/.
70 Letter from Minister of Justice `Abd Allah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim Al al-Shaikh to Human Rights Commission President Turki al-Sudairy, regarding Human Rights Watchs request for clarification on qisas cases involving persons under age 18, March 12, 2008; and Council of Senior Scholars Decree 209 of January 23, 2002 (9/11/1422), regarding specifying an age of majority (bulugh).
71 Human Rights Watch interviews with Dr. Eisa AbdulAzize al-Shamekh, Human Rights Commission board member, Riyadh, March 9, 2008, and Dr. `Abd al-Rahman al-Sabih, National Commission for Childhood, March 11, 2008.
72 `Abd al-`Aziz al-Badr, New Attempts to Pardon Him: Issuance of the Qisas Sentence against the Murderer of the Egyptian Child Wala (Muhawilat jadda lil-`afw `anhu: Sudur hukm al-qasas fi qatil al-tilfla al-masriyya Wala'), al-Riyadh, August 26, 2005 (21/7/1426), http://www.alriyadh.com/2005/08/26/article90120.html (accessed August 30, 2005).
73 Human Rights Watch telephone communication with human rights activist Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, Dammam, September 7, 2005.
74 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Qahs, Najran, December 14, 2006.
75 Ministry of Justice, Presidency of the Courts of Asir, Judges Office, Verdicts Issued by Sharia Courts, Recorded Number 219/2, Serial Number 219, January 17, 1996. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see Human Rights Watch, Precarious Justice.
76 Minister of Social Affairs `Abd al-Muhsin al-`Akkas cited the stigma associated with having a detained child when he refused to allow Human Rights Watch researchers to speak to detainees held in Ministry of Social Affairs reformatories during our December 2006 visit. The minister asserted that the stigma was so great that no families would allow their children to speak with Human Rights Watch, and he refused to allow Human Rights Watch to ask guardians visiting detainees for permission to speak to their wards. Human Rights Watch interview with `Abd al-Muhsin al-`Akkas, minister of social affairs, Riyadh, December 6, 2006.
77 As noted earlier, members of a murder victims family retain the right to demand execution, compensation, or to pardon a convicted murder. Saeed Al-Abyad, Helping Troubled Kids Integrate, Arab News, October 11, 2006.
78 Hanan al-Zayr, Dispute over the Age [according to] Sharia for the Qisas Punishment: 126 Children in Saudi Arabia Await the Sword (Jadal hawal al-sinal-shara`I lihad al-qisas: 126 tiflan fi al-sa`udiya yantathirun al-siyaf), al-Arabiya.com, November 9, 2005 (7/10/1426). The same investigation noted that generally children sentenced to qisas punishment for committing murder remain in the [social observation] home until age 18, which is the age specified for implementing the punishment on the murderer if [the murderer] was a male juvenile, while a female is placed in the girls institution until age 21 and sometimes until age 25 if she had not matured by then, and then the qisas punishment is implemented.
79 See table titled List of detention facilities for persons under eighteen who have committed punishable offences, showing the number of detainees and the type of offence committed, in 2003, under the heading Homicides, in Government of Saudi Arabia, Written reply concerning the list of issues relating to the second periodic report of Saudi Arabia to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, p. 19.
80 Ministry of Social Affairs social observation home regulations list the minimum age for detainees as seven years, but according to its director, the facility now only takes boys over 12. Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Decree 1354 of August 11, 1975 (3/8/1395), art. 1(a); Human Rights Watch interview with `Ali bin Hassan al-`Ajami, December 2, 2006.
81 Human Rights Watch interview with `Ali bin Hassan al-`Ajami, December 2, 2006.
82 Letter from Human Rights Watch to Minster of Social Affairs `Abd al-Muhsin al-`Akkas, June 30, 2007. At this writing Saudi Arabian authorities provided only partial responses to Human Rights Watchs subsequent requests for clarification of procedures governing death penalty cases involving juvenile offenders and for information on the cases described in this report. Letter from Human Rights Watch to Minister of Justice Dr. Abdullah bin Muhammad Al al-Shaikh, November 29, 2007; Letter from Human Rights Watch to President of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary Shaikh Salih al-Luhaidan, November 29, 2007.
83 The Riyadh Social Observation Home accepts detainees from the entire Riyadh Region, an area with a total population of about 5 million. According to a study by the Higher Authority for the Development of Riyadh, the population of Riyadh city alone in February 2005 was 4.26 million, including 2.8 million Saudi nationals, of whom 56 percent were under 20, and 34 percent were under 15. Ministry of Interior, Emirate of Riyadh, Riyadh Region, http://www.riyadh.gov.sa/en_PageShow.asp?page_id=55 (accessed May 22, 2007); Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, Population of Riyadh City Remains at Well Over 4 Million, June 3, 2005, http://www.saudiembassy.net/2005News/News/NewsDetail.asp?cIndex=5111 (accessed May 22, 2007).
84 At the time of writing, Saudi Arabian authorities have not responded to Human Rights Watchs request for information on the case of Sultan Kohail. The 17-year-old Canadian national living in Jeddah is currently on trial for participating with others in a January 2007 schoolyard brawl that resulted in the death of a classmate. Sultan Kohails older brother, Mohammad, was sentenced to death on March 3, 2008, for the same crime. See Alan Freeman, Canadians face beheading in Saudi Arabia, Globe and Mail Newspaper (Toronto), May 15, 2007; Letter from Human Rights Watch to Minister of Justice Dr. Abdullah bin Muhammad Al al-Shaikh, November 29, 2007.
85 Saudi Arabia beheads man convicted of murdering stepmother while minor, Associated Press, August 20, 2007.
86 The Qisas Killing of al-Thowys Killer (al-Qatl Qisasan li Qatil al-Thowry), Okaz (Jeddah), July 22, 2007 (7/8/1428), http://www.okaz.com.sa/okaz/osf/20070722/Con20070722126825.htm (accessed September 24, 2007).
87 Adnan al-Shabarawi, Hours Away from Qisas: The Childs Killer: Release Me for Gods Sake (Qabl sa`at min al-qasas:Qatil al-hadath: A`taquni athabikum Allah), Okaz, May 16, 2007 (29/4/1428), http://www.okaz.com.sa/okaz/osf/20070516/Con20070516111179.htm (accessed May 22, 2007).
88 See The Qisas Execution of a Perpetrator for Killing a Boy after Trying to Rape Him (al-Qatl Qisasan li Janin Hawal Fi`l al-Fahisha fi Sabi wa Qatalahu) al-Bilad newspaper (Jiddah), July 11, 2007, http://www.albilad-daily.com/files/the_newspaper/11-7-2007/local/main.html (accessed February 7, 2008). Under the shorter lunar calendar used in Saudi Arabia, Hakami would have just turned 14 years old at the time of the killing, and 16 at the time of his execution.
89 Samir Al-Saadi, Father Seeks Justice for Sons Wrongful Execution in Jizan, Arab News, January 30, 2008, http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=106240&d=30&m=1&y=2008 (accessed February 7, 2008).
90 Samir Al-Saadi, Government Rep. Fails to Show Up for Hakami Case, Arab News, February 4, 2008, http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=106448&d=4&m=2&y=2008 accessed February 7, 2008.
91 Saudi Arabia: Fair Appeal for Domestic Worker on Death Row: Sri Lankan Under 18 at Time of Alleged Killing, Human Rights Watch new release, July 30, 2007, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/07/30/saudia16531.htm; Mohammed Rasooldeen, Sri Lankan Maid Sentenced to Death for Murdering Infant, Arab News, June 20, 2007, http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=97710&d=20&m=6&y=2007&pix=kingdom.jpg&category=Kingdom (accessed June 20, 2007).
92 Mohammed Rasooldeen, Rizana Case Moves to Supreme Judicial Council, Arab News, March 9, 2008, http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=107656&d=9&m=3&y=2008 (accessed March 11, 2008).
93 See 1.9 Million Riyal from the Departed King Fahd Saves the Neck Sentenced to Retribution (1.9 miliyun riyal min al-malik al-rahil Fahd tu`taq ruqbat mahkum `alaihi bil-qasas: Awidi`hu amana lada al-amir Salman lisarfih fi awjah al-khair), al-Sharq al-Awsat; Shaikh al-Ayda Offers Thanks Both of Them for Their Humanitarian Efforts to Save the Neck of `Abd al-Majid al-`Anizi: Prince Salman Paid 1.9 Million Riyal from Funds King Fahd Left (Al-Shaikh al-Ayda qaddam shukrihu lahuma limubadaratahuma al-insaniyya li`taq ruqbat `Abd al-Majid al-`Anzi; Al-Amir Salman dafa` 1.9 milyun riyal fi amana tarakha al-malik Fahd), al-Jazirah.
94 Three Qisas and Diya Cases Await Dogooders Contributions: 3.5 Million Diya to be Paid before the Coming [month of] Safar; A Verbal Disagreement Develops into a Fight and Ends with a Murder Case (Thalath qadhaya qasas widdiyya musahamat fa`iliyy al-khair: Al-diyya 3.5 malalin `ala an tadfa` qabl Safar al-qadim; Mushahada kalamiyya tatatawar ila mashajara wa tantahi biqadhiyyat qatl), al-Riyadh, December 15, 2005 (13/11/1426), http://www.alriyadh.com/2005/12/15/article115552.html (accessed May 21, 2007).
95 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with human rights activist Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, September 7, 2005.
96 For more information on this case, see Human Rights Watch letter to King Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Commute the death sentence of Egyptian boy, September 22, 2005, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/10/27/saudia11927.htm.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Sherif Bedeir, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, March 11, 2008.
98 Taysir al-`Aid and Matairan al-Nims, al-`Anizi Pardons His Sons Killer Imprisoned in al-Juf [Social] Observation [Home] (Al-`Anzi ya`fu `an qatil ibnuh al-masjun bimulahathat al-Juf), al-Watan (Abha), February 26, 2007 (8/2/1428), http://alwatan.com.sa/daily/2007-02-26/local/local07.htm (accessed May 22, 2007).
99 Waiting to Be Ganted a New Life (Yantuthir Manah Ruh Jadida), Rasid New Network, http://rasid.com/artc.php?id=6833 (accessed October 4, 2007); and Al Qatif: 6 Million Demanded to Save Sadiq from Qisas( Al-Qatif: Matlub 6 milyun li'inqath "Sadiq" min al-qasas), June 22, 2005 (15/5/1426), Rasid News Network, http://www.rasid.com/artc.php?id=6470 (accessed November 17, 2005).
100 Sadiq al-Jama Soon to be Released from Prison (Sadiq al-Jama Kharij al-Sijn Qareeban), Jefoon (Jeddah), October 30, 2005, http://www.jefoon.com/vb/showthread.php?t=4176 (accessed September 24, 2007).
101 Susan Zawawi, Teen girl, accused of killing husband, will be released, Saudi Gazette, July 7, 2005; The Freeing of Marwa With 3 Million Riyals (Itq Raqabit Marwa bi Thalathat Malayeen Riyal), Okaz newspaper (Jeddah), July 30, 2006 (5/7/1427), http://www.okaz.com.sa/okaz/osf/20060730/Con2006073035715.htm (accessed October 10, 2007).
102 According to al-Qahs, the Amir of Asir has also urged the murder victims family to pardon him or accept compensation for the death. Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Muhammad al-Qahs, Najran, December 14, 2006, and July 13, 2007; Ministry of Justice, Presidency of the Courts of Asir, Judges Office, Verdicts Issued by Sharia Courts, Recorded Number 219/2, Serial Number 219, January 17, 1996. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see Human Rights Watch, Precarious Justice.
103 See Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia in World Report 1993: Events of 1992 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1992), http://www.hrw.org/reports/1993/WR93/Mew-08.htm#P442_209980.