"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, August 1, 2016

Boris Johnson told to act over Saudi execution threat

Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawood al-Marhoon Saudi Arabia
Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawood al-Marhoon
Fears are growing that Saudi Arabia is about to behead a man for crimes committed when he was a juvenile - in violation of both international and Saudi law - triggering calls for the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to publicly reject Saudi "propaganda" claims that the accused should have been considered an adult at the time of the crime.

Human rights groups are concerned that a Twitter account with close links to the Saudi government is now raising the profile of Ali al-Nimr, who was sentenced to death on charges relating to his role in anti-government protests in 2012 when he was 17. In the past, similar activity on the Twitter account has been a signal that an individual is about to be executed. 2 other men, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, convicted of similar offences when juveniles, also face beheading.

Under Saudi law juveniles cannot be executed. But, in its latest Human Rights Priority Country assessment for Saudi Arabia, the Foreign Office states that "all 3 were convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles, although under Saudi law they are considered to have been adult at the time".

The case of al-Nimr was highlighted by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last year and became a cause celebre. Following Corbyn's appeal, the Foreign Office, which raised the matter with the Saudis, said it did not expect the three to be executed. But the Foreign Office's decision to repeat the Saudi claim has alarmed human rights groups, who are concerned about the signals it sends out to the kingdom.

"The British government should not be accepting the Saudis' excuses for their appalling plans to behead people sentenced to death as children," said Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at international human rights organisation Reprieve.

"The government must stop hiding behind the fiction that Abdullah, Ali and Dawood are considered adults under Saudi law. The reality is that the Saudis are breaking both their own laws and international law in their plans to execute these 3 - all of whom were arrested when they were under 18 and accused of involvement in protests calling for reform."

Saudi law stipulates that juveniles can be classed as adults if they have hit puberty and are close to adulthood. But this has to be made clear at their trial. Reprieve insists this was not the case. It points out that all 3 were held in juvenile detention on arrest, and has written to the Foreign Office urging it not to accept the Saudi line. It has also raised the matter in a letter to Johnson.

"The attention the Foreign Office has paid to these cases so far is welcome," Foa said. "However, they must ensure they are not giving support to Saudi government propaganda, as they have done all too often before. Boris Johnson needs to set the record straight and call on the Saudi authorities to immediately commute the death sentences handed down to these 3 juveniles."

The issue represents an urgent challenge to Johnson's authority. As foreign secretary he must recognise the UK's commitment to human rights - but will also understand the need to placate the Saudis, who have bought billions of pounds' worth of UK jets, weapons and military hardware.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson
The 3 young men claim that they were tortured into confessions. Along with serious crimes such as making and throwing Molotov cocktails at police, they were convicted of an array of offences including "observing the movements of vehicles belonging to the security forces", "buying for and distributing water to protesters" and "explaining how to give first aid to protesters".

All 3 deny involvement in violent activity. There are widespread concerns that their trials did not follow due process, as lawyers for the three were denied access to the evidence against them.

There have also been claims that the case against al-Nimr is politically motivated because he is the nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a reformist cleric who called for an end to corruption and discrimination against minorities. Nimr was executed in a mass execution of 47 prisoners last January, including Ali Saeed al-Rebh, 18, who was arrested after attending protests when he was 17.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The government's position is clear and understood by Saudi Arabia: we oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and in all countries. We regularly raise the case of Ali al-Nimr, and the 2 others who were juveniles when they committed the crimes of which they have been convicted, including during the former foreign secretary's most recent visit to Saudi Arabia. We expect that they will not be executed. Nevertheless, we continue to raise these cases with the Saudi authorities."

Source: The Guardian, July 31, 2016


Ministers urged to correct claims over Saudi juveniles executions

International human rights organization Reprieve is urging the UK Government to correct inaccurate statements it has made about three juveniles facing beheading in Saudi Arabia.

Ali al Nimr, Dawoud al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher were aged 17, 17 and 15 (respectively) when they were sentenced to death for alleged involvement in protests calling for reform in the Kingdom.

However, the UK Government has wrongly maintained that “under Saudi Law they are considered to have been adult at the time.”

This assertion – made most recently in a UK human rights assessment of Saudi Arabia, updated on 21 July – is directly at odds with the Saudi Government’s own public claims that their own law defines a child as any person under the age of 18. In their most recent report to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Saudi Government said that:

“Looking at the statutes adopted in Saudi Arabia, it is clear that the definition of the child in them is consistent with the requirements of article 1 of the Convention. The Child Protection Act defines the child as ‘any person under the age of eighteen’, as does the Act to combat crimes of trafficking in persons. Furthermore, the juvenile is defined in the criminal law regulations on arrest and the regulations on juvenile detention centres as any person who has not reached the age of eighteen.”

While Saudi law continues to allow some limited scope for a judge to determine that someone under 18 can be treated as an adult – in contradiction to Saudi Arabia’s international obligations - no such determination was in fact made in any of Ali’s, Dawoud’s or Abdullah’s cases. In addition, all three were detained following their arrest in juvenile detention centres, a clear indication that the authorities considered them to be children.

Reprieve has written to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on several occasions to welcome the attention they have paid to the case, but ask that they correct this inaccurate claim, which the charity believes runs the risk of helping to legitimise the Saudis authorities’ use of the death penalty against children.

Reprieve has previously expressed concern over former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s claim that the 47 people executed in a single day in January this year “were terrorists” – despite at least four of them having been convicted of offences relating to protests calling for reform in the country.

However, the FCO has so far refused to correct either of these claims. Reprieve has written to new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson asking that he maintains the FCO’s focus on the cases of the Saudi juveniles, but that he moves further and asks the Saudi Government to commute their death sentences – something which the FCO has not done so far. It is unclear whether Mr Johnson raised the juveniles’ cases during a recent meeting with his Saudi counterparts.

Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at international human rights organization Reprieve said:

“The British Government should not be accepting the Saudis' excuses for their appalling plans to behead people sentenced to death as children. The government must stop hiding behind the fiction that Abdullah, Ali and Dawoud are considered adults under Saudi law. The reality is that the Saudis are breaking both their own laws and international law in their plans to execute these three.

“The attention the Foreign Office has paid to these cases so far is welcome. However, they must ensure they are not giving support to Saudi Government propaganda, as they have done all too often before. Boris Johnson needs to set the record straight, and call on the Saudi authorities to immediately commute the death sentences handed down to these three juveniles.”

Source: Reprieve, July 31, 2016

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde