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Saudi Arabia: Protester detained as a minor released after facing death penalty

Dawoud al-Marhoun faced the death penalty in 2015, together with two other minors, for their involvement in anti-government protests
Dawoud al-Marhoun after his release from prison on Wednesday (Twitter)

Saudi Arabia released Dawoud al-Marhoun from prison on Wednesday, a decade after he was detained as a minor for participating in anti-government protests.

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Marhoun and two other minors, Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher, were handed the death sentence in 2015, but their sentences were commuted in February to 10 years in prison.

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The three were arrested in 2012 on terrorism-related charges after they took part in anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings. Marhoun was 17 years old at the time. 

The decision was revoked last year after a royal decree issued by King Salman said that the kingdom will no longer impose the death penalty on people who committed crimes as minors.

Al-Nimr, who was released last October, is the nephew of influential Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in 2016.

Al-Zaher was released in November.

Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi lawyer who works to defend children from execution, celebrated Marhoun’s release on Wednesday.

“He is now released from prison to find a different world without his mother, who died while fighting to lift the sword from his neck,” he tweeted.

In April 2019, six young men sentenced to death for crimes allegedly committed as children were among those killed in a mass execution of 37 people.

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Saudi law now 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 has carried out at least 800 executions during the five years of King Salman's rule, said human rights organisation Reprieve in a 2020 report.

According to the British nonprofit organisation, which campaigns against the death penalty, the rate of execution in Saudi Arabia doubled between 2015 and 2020, after King Salman ascended to the throne following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah.

Last year, the European parliament passed a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia's use of the death penalty, particularly against child offenders.

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