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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Family of third Saudi juvenile facing beheading appeal for help

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in Saudi Arabia
The family of a Saudi juvenile who was 15 when he was arrested at a protest have appealed for help to stop his imminent beheading.

Abdullah al-Zaher was arrested in March 2012 by Saudi security forces breaking up protests in the country’s Eastern Province. He was beaten with rifle butts before being taken into detention and tortured into signing a ‘confession’, without being allowed to read it or consult with his parents or a lawyer. He was sentenced to death by beheading in the country’s secretive Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), despite having been 15 at the time of his arrest. His sentence was upheld in October this year, and he is now in solitary confinement awaiting execution.

Speaking to the Guardian in an interview published today, his father Hassan Al Zaher described Abdullah as “a peaceful, loving son", and appealed to the international community to “please help me save my son from the imminent threat of death.” He said he last saw his son three months ago during a brief prison visit, before Abdullah was transferred to a prison in Asir, some 1,000 km away from where the family lives. He added that the court process had been so secretive that the family was unable to follow the progress of the trial.

There are fears that Abdullah could be executed at any time, along with along with Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon, who were also juveniles when they were arrested at protests. Two weeks ago, Saudi media reports suggested the government was preparing to execute over 50 prisoners in a single day, including those arrested during the protests.

International human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting the juveniles, has asked UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to intervene in Abdullah’s case and those of Ali and Dawoud. The Foreign Office has confirmed to the Guardian that the UK had intervened with the Saudi authorities on the cases, but would not give details.

Research by Reprieve has shown that some 72 per cent of those facing execution in Saudi Arabia were convicted of non-violent crimes including political protest, with many reporting being tortured into forced ‘confessions.’

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “Abdullah al-Zaher has been through a horrifying ordeal – arrested at the age of 15 for attending a protest, tortured into a ‘confession’, and now awaiting execution in solitary confinement, far from his family. It is utterly disgraceful that the Saudi authorities are now threatening to carry out his beheading imminently, along with the killing of other juveniles like Ali al-Nimr. Those governments who are among the closest Saudi allies – notably the UK and the US – must step in without delay and urge the Saudi authorities to change course.” 

Further information on Abdullah al-Zaher's case is available on request. For more information about Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon’s cases, see here and here.

The Saudi plans to execute over 50 prisoners were reported via official sources in news outlets including Okaz and Shareq al Awsat – see here, for example.

Reprieve's report on Saudi Arabia's death row can be read here.

Source: Reprieve, December 17, 2015


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