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Saudi public prosecutor orders review of death penalties for three minors

Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher were sentenced to death in 2016 for terrorism offences committed before they had reached the age of 18
These three Saudi minors were sentenced to death
Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has ordered a review of death penalties issued against three men who allegedly committed crimes as minors (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has ordered a review of death penalties given to three individuals who allegedly committed crimes when they were still children, a statement said on Thursday. 

Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah Zaher were sentenced to death in 2016 for terrorism offences committed before they had reached the age of 18. 

Both Nimr and Marhoon were 17 when they were detained in 2012. Zaher was 15 when he was arrested in 2011.

Nimr is the nephew of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in 2016 along with 46 others charged with terrorism counts by the kingdom, sparking demonstrations in both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The public prosecutor's move was prompted by a royal decree issued by King Salman in April, which said Saudi Arabia would no longer impose the death sentence on people who committed crimes as minors.

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"These referrals mark important progress in faithfully implementing an important reform in the legal system, and in advancing human rights in Saudi Arabia," said Awwad Alawwad, president of the state-backed Saudi Human Rights Commission, in a statement.

Saudi law dictates that the maximum sentence for anyone convicted of a crime while a minor is 10 years, which should be served in a juvenile detention facility. 

The royal decree also said minors who had already served 10 or more years would be released upon a review of their case.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under intense international scrutiny after the murder of a prominent Saudi journalist in 2018.

Saudi Arabia has carried out at least 800 executions during the five years of King Salman's rule, said human rights organisation Reprieve. 

According to the British nonprofit organisation, which campaigns against the death penalty, the rate of execution in Saudi Arabia has doubled since 2015, when King Salman succeeded to the throne in January after the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah. 

Saudi Arabia is the world's third biggest executioner, after China and Iran, Amnesty International said in its latest annual report.

The report said the kingdom had executed 184 people in 2019, including at least one person charged with a crime committed as a minor.