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Father of youth due to be crucified in Saudi Arabia calls for mercy

Ali al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death for his role in protests in the Shia majority province of Qatif
A handout picture released by reprieve.org on 23 September 2015 shows Ali al-Nimr, a Saudi youth facing the death penalty for taking part in pro-reform protests (AFP)

The father of a Saudi youth facing execution for taking part in pro-reform protests on Wednesday appealed to King Salman to spare his life.

In an interview with AFP, Mohammed al-Nimr said he hoped the king would save his son, Ali, who was only 17 when he was arrested in February 2012.

The case has attracted worldwide attention.

"We hope that the king will not sign the execution order," Nimr said, after Saudi Arabia's highest court confirmed the death sentence, leaving his son's fate in the hands of the king.

Zena Esia, from the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, said: "The only way to get Ali out of this would be a royal pardon.

"Whether he will be released or not depends on what the king decides."

The Saudi authorities sentenced Ali to death by beheading, with his body then being crucified and left to rot. 

Reprieve, an anti-death penalty charity, has claimed that Ali was tortured and forced to sign a confession, the International Business Times reported. However, when Ali told the judge about how he was tortured during his trial, no investigation was made, the charity said. Instead the court used his forced confession to sentence him to death. 

Nimr warned that if his son is put to death the minority Shia community could react violently, something he said he does not want to happen. 

"We don't need that; we don't need even one drop of blood," he said.

Ali al-Nimr's father admitted that his son, a high school student when he was arrested, had joined thousands of other people in protest. 

But he said he is innocent of numerous other charges including burglary, attacking police and using a Molotov cocktail. Ali is also accused of being part of a terrorist organisation, using his Blackberry to encourage others to protest, and explaining to others how to give first aid.

Ali is a nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia religious leader who is also on death row.

Nimr was a driving force behind demonstrations that began four years ago in Eastern Province, where most of Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia's Shia live. 

The short-lived protests kicked off in March 2011, following protests in other countries in the region. Thousands of protesters demonstrated against decades of discrimination, religious and political repression.

Saudi authorities responded with a bloody crackdown that resulted in the arrests of hundreds and the killing of at least 27 people.

International appeal to revoke execution 

France's foreign ministry appealed on Wednesday for a stay of execution and expressed concern about the case of the youth, "condemned to death even though he was a minor at the time of the incident," a spokesman said.

France opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, the spokesman added.

On Tuesday, UN rights experts also called for Ali al-Nimr's life to be spared.

A statement said the youth was reportedly tortured, coerced into a confession and denied adequate access to a lawyer before and during a trial that did not meet international standards. 

"Any judgement imposing the death penalty upon persons who were children at the time of the offence, and their execution, are incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s international obligations," the experts said.

Saudi Arabia has executed 133 locals and foreigners this year, according to an AFP tally, compared with 87 last year.

"Saudi Arabia has been on an execution spree in 2015, but beheading a child offender whose trial was unfair would be an appalling new low," Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last week.

Local activists are also worried about the threat to Ali al-Nimr's life.

"It's a very painful story," said one Eastern Province activist, asking for anonymity.