Geneva: Five UN rights experts urgently appealed Monday to Saudi Arabia to “immediately” halt plans to execute six people sentenced to death for alleged crimes committed when they were minors.
The independent experts warned that Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, Salman Qureish and Abdulkarim al-Hawaj “face imminent execution”.
The men had been arrested and sentenced to death for charges linked to the “exercise of their fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and expression, when they were aged less than 18 years old,” the experts said in a statement.
The men had all initially been detained “in connection with their participation in the Arab Spring” uprisings, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office told AFP.
They were all tried in a new specialised court that “exclusively handles terrorism-related charges”, the spokesperson said.
During the Arab Spring uprisings in the region, Shiite protestors briefly took to the streets in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011 demanding an end to alleged discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government.
The UN experts, including on extrajudicial executions and on torture, as well as the head of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the men were allegedly tortured and forced to confess, and had been denied adequate legal assistance during their trials.
“Death penalty sentences and executions for crimes committed by persons below the age of 18 at the time of the offence run contrary to international law and standards,” the experts said.
“As a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is under an obligation to treat everyone under the age of 18 as a child,” they stressed.
“Children should never be subject to the death penalty, this practice violates an existing norm of customary international law and renders the punishment tantamount to torture,” they added.
“In these circumstances, the execution of these six individuals would constitute arbitrary executions.”
The ultra-conservative kingdom has one of the world’s highest rates of execution, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.
Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy governed under a strict form of Islamic law. The government says the death penalty is an effective deterrent against serious crime.
“Saudi Arabia should promptly amend its legislation with a view to unambiguously prohibiting the imposition of the death sentence on children,” the UN experts said.