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Saudi Arabia: UN warns of execution risk for man convicted of protesting as a child

UN expert and rights groups sound alarm as Abdullah al-Derazi's death sentence over protest-related crimes is upheld by Saudi Supreme Court
Abdullah al-Derazi's family have said he is very sociable and hoped to become a lawyer before his arrest in 2014 (Reprieve)
Abdullah al-Derazi's family have said he is very sociable and hoped to become a lawyer before his arrest in 2014 (Reprieve)

A UN expert and rights groups warn that Abdullah al-Derazi, who was arrested on protest-related charges he was accused of committing as a child, is at imminent risk of execution in Saudi Arabia despite a royal decree abolishing executions over childhood crimes.

Al-Derazi has faced the death penalty since 2018, after he was arrested in 2014 in relation to his participation in demonstrations in Saudi Arabia's al-Qatif governorate against the kingdom's treatment of Shia citizens there.

The country's Supreme Court recently upheld his death sentence, meaning that Derazi can be executed at any time, Morris Tidball-Binz, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, said on Monday.

"I urge the Saudi judiciary and other institutions in Saudi Arabia to ensure that Abdullah al-Derazi’s execution is not carried out,” Tidball-Binz said.

There is particular concern among observers that Derazi may be executed while the world is distracted by the ongoing events in Israel and Palestine.

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"Saudi Arabia has previously executed people when the world was looking elsewhere," Duaa Dhainy, a researcher with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), told Middle East Eye on Tuesday.

Dhainy pointed to the 2 January 2016 execution in the kingdom of 46 men, including prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Execution of minors continue

Members of his family say that Derazi, one of four children, is very sociable and was popular among school friends. He enjoyed raising ornamental birds, including a prized nightingale, and hoped to study to become a lawyer prior to his arrest.

He has denied all the charges against him. Rights groups documenting his case say he was held in solitary confinement for six months during which time he was physically and psychologically tortured before being forced to sign a false confession that he was part of a terrorist group.

He was held in pre-trial detention for three years before his case was heard before the Specialized Criminal Court in 2017. The prosecution's only evidence in his case was his coerced confession, ESOHR and Reprieve have said, citing court documents.

'This is a regime callous enough to torture and kill a young man for the "crime" of allegedly attending protests when he was a child'

- Jeed Basyouni, Reprieve

"This is a regime callous enough to torture and kill a young man for the 'crime' of allegedly attending protests when he was a child - and cynical enough to do so while international attention is elsewhere," said Jeed Basyouni, who leads Reprieve's MENA death penalty team.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia introduced the Juvenile Law, which essentially eliminated the death penalty for minors, but the government carved out exceptions.

In April 2020, the kingdom introduced a royal decree allowing the law’s provisions to be applied retrospectively.

But Saudi Arabia has still upheld the death penalty in cases involving minors, including the execution in 2021 of Mustafa al-Darwish over alleged protest-related crimes. Rights groups say he was tortured into a confession.

Basyouni said: "The lie that Saudi Arabia has abolished the death penalty for juveniles depends on ignorance or wilful blindness."

There are at least eight others in the kingdom currently on death row convicted of crimes purportedly committed when they were minors, according to ESOHR.

Tidball-Binz, the UN expert, called on Saudi Arabia to publish the text of the 2020 royal decree and enforce it for all defendants below the age of 18, regardless of their crime.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been asked to comment.

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