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Saudi Arabia scraps death penalty for minors convicted of crimes

Decree says minors will instead receive sentences of no longer than 10 years in juvenile detention facilities
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia carried out 800th execution of King Salman's five years of rule, British human rights organisation Reprieve said (AFP)

Saudi Arabia will no longer impose the death sentence on minors who commit crimes, the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) said in a statement on Sunday, citing a royal decree by King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

"The decree means that any individuals who received a death sentence for crimes committed while he or she is a minor can no longer face execution. Instead, the individual will receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility," HRC President Awwad Alawwad said in the statement, according to Reuters.

It was not immediately clear when the decree, which was not immediately carried on state media, would take effect.

Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record came under intense international scrutiny after the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, is one of the world's biggest executioners after Iran and China, Amnesty International reported in its latest annual report, which said the kingdom had executed 184 people in 2019.

Saudi Arabia courts abolish flogging as punishment
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Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia carried out the 800th execution of King Salman's five years of rule, British human rights organisation Reprieve said. 

Last April, the Sunni-ruled kingdom beheaded 37 men convicted of terrorism charges. The UN human rights chief said at the time that most of them were Shia who may not have had fair trials and at least three were minors when sentenced.

The decree may spare the death penalty for at least six men from the country’s minority Shia community who were under the age of 18 while allegedly committing crimes that included participating in anti-government protests. Such activities carry terrorism-related charges in the kingdom for disturbing order and disobeying the ruler, the Associated Press reported.

In a document seen by the AP, the royal decree also orders prosecutors to review cases and drop punishments for those who’ve already served the maximum 10 years.

"This is an important day for Saudi Arabia," Alawwad said. "The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code, and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms across all sectors of our country."

The announcement comes just two days after the kingdom in effect scrapped the punishment of flogging, which will be replaced by prison time or fines.

Capital punishment for crimes committed by people under the age of 18 runs contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched a series of social and economic reforms aimed at modernising the conservative kingdom, which has no codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law.

He’s also overseen a parallel crackdown on liberals, women’s rights activists, writers, moderate clerics and reformers, as well as the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

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