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Fears for minors as Saudi Arabia accused of 'ramping up' executions of protesters

From left to right: Ali Al-Nimr, Darwood Al-Marhoun, Abdullah Al-Zahar, Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj
Ali Al-Nimr, Darwood Al-Marhoun, Abdullah Al-Zahar, Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj
Four young males on death row who were arrested in their teens in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia have been awaiting their fate for the past five years. Now, after a recent spate of executions, human rights groups fear the worst.

The four were arrested as minors, aged between 13 and 17, after allegedly participating in pro-democracy protests during 2011 and 2012.

They were sentenced to death after reportedly being tortured into ‘confessions’ and convicted in secret trials.

"We've now seen 11 executions in just two days which is an unprecedented rate of executions for Saudi Arabia and deeply troubling," Maya Foa, Director of London-based human rights organisation Reprieve, told SBS World News.

"It recalls the mass execution that we had over a year ago now where 47 people were executed in one day, and there are really troubling concerns that Saudi Arabia may be now ramping up its execution machinery to kill more people on its death row."

While information on Ali Al-Nimr, Darwood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher and Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj has been limited, human rights groups as well as the United Nations have repeatedly called on Saudi authorities to end the death penalty

Ali Al-Nimr


"Ali Al-Nimr was a young man, a juvenile, just 17-years-old who was arrested after he attended a protest," Ms Foa said.

He was arrested in the eastern province of Qatif and has spent five years in prison, three of them on death row.

"He was tortured terribly and then convicted and sentenced to death - he was actually sentenced to death by crucifixtion. This is clearly an unawful death sentence and a really egregious crime the part of the Saudi authorities to have sentenced him in this way."

He is the nephew of Saudi Shiite cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution, together with 47 others in January 2016 sparked widespread international condemnation.

"On the charge sheet they have things like 'inviting friends to the protest on their BlackBerry, administering first aid at the protest. These are not things that we would ever consider to be crimes let alone meriting execution."

Zena Al-Esia, a research associate with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, (ESOHR) based in Berlin, says it's a very difficult situation for his mother, Nasrah Alahmed, who posts frequently on Twitter about her son.

Ali al-Nimr had recently been allowed to visit his father, in Awamiya where there's currently a military operation.

"His father was shot, so Ali al-Nimr was allowed out of prison to visit him. Some people have considered this maybe a positive sign - maybe he's going to be released - it was just a temporary visit for a few hours," Ms Al-Esia told SBS World News.

But judging by the recent executions, she said "it's not a good sign".

Darwood Al-Marhoon


Arrested in 2012 after refusing to spy on protesters, human rights groups say 17-year-old Darwood al-Marhoon was tortured and forced to sign a blank piece of paper which would later become his confession.

Access to legal counsel was denied on many occassions and he remains in solitary confinement awaiting execution. He has exhausted all appeals.

Abdullah Al-Zaher


Abdullah al-Zaher was 15 when he was arrested in 2012 and charged with 'harbouring' protestors and participating in demonstrations. His father told the Guardian in 2015 that he was forced to sign a piece of paper that police had fabricated. He has exhausted all appeals.

Abdulkareen Al-Hawaj


This month, Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj had his death sentence upheld on appeal. He was found guilty of crimes committed when he was 16. He, too, has exhausted all appeals.


'Youngest political prisoner'


In January 2017, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported on the case of a minor, identified by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) as Murtaja Al-Qureyrees, who was 13-years-old at the time of his arrest at the border while travelling to Bahrain with his family.

According to ESOHR, he is currently the youngest political prisoner in Saudi Arabia who was arrested without a warrant.

The UN found that his detention was arbitrary and 'in contravention of articles 10, 11, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights'.

There are also fears for a young, Saudi deaf man Munir Adam who faces imminent execution in Saudi Arabia.

Advocates say authorities have upheld the death sentence for 23-year-old who has impaired sight and hearing.

He was 18 when he was arrested in the wake of political protests in 2012. He is said to have been badly tortured and forced to sign a false confession.


Claims of false confessions


Human Rights Watch reviewed more than a dozen convictions of Saudi Shia accused of violence and other crimes related to the Shia uprisings in 2011 and 2012, and in nearly all of the cases it found that Shia citizens were convicted almost solely based on confessions that they gave supposedly freely to Saudi police.

"All of the families that we've been able to interview say that in court these individuals recanted their confessions saying that they were tortured to give them, but the judges ignored those comments and went ahead and issued judgements anyway," Adam Coogle, Middle East research at Human Rights Watch, told SBS World News.

"Some of the Shia sentenced to death also include individuals who supposedly committed their crimes before they were 18, so they're considered child offenders," he said.

Maya Foa cites the case of yet another juvenile, executed during last year's mass executions.

"Reprieve later found out that there were a number of juveniles among those executed - including Ali Al-Ribh, a young man pulled out of school, tortured, forced to sign a forced confession, sentenced to death and executed. His family only found out that he had been executed after it had happened by reading it in a newspaper."

Four executed in criminal court for terrorism


There's been condemnation of recent executions on July 11 and 12 in Saudi Arabia's eastern province, including four men convicted in a secret 'terrorism' court.

They had been accused of protest-related crimes and acts of violence. At least six others had been executed the previous day, on smaller criminal charges.

In 2011 and 2012, thousands took to the streets demanding reform across the Kingdom in Arab Spring protests. It was during these protests that many were detained.

Many were also tried in the Specialised Criminal Court which hears terrorism cases, but human rights groups say the Court has also been used to sentence alleged protestors, including several minors, to death.

The Saudi Embassy in Canberra has been contacted for comment.

Source: SBS, Maya Jamieson, July 15, 2017


Student facing beheading in Saudi Arabia was to attend Western Michigan


A Saudi Arabian student who was arrested 5 years ago as he was about to fly to Michigan to attend college is believed to be facing imminent execution by beheading, officials say.

Mujtaba Al-Sweikat, who was 17 when he was detained at King Fahd International Airport in 2012, was moved Friday from detention in Dammam to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where executions by beheading customarily take place.

Earlier that year, Al-Sweikat allegedly attended a pro-democracy rally, which led to his arrest.

Al-Sweikat intended to visit Western Michigan University, where he had applied as a student, according to Reprieve, an international human rights group that has offices in New York and London and operates with partners around the world. He was later accepted by the university as a student. The Free Press has seen a copy of the acceptance letter from Western.

Western Michigan confirmed Al-Sweikat had been accepted to the university in 2013, but never attended.

"We were stunned to learn, for the first time today, of this situation," Western Michigan spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said in a statement to the Free Press. "It is not unusual for an admitted student to opt out of enrolling at the last minute, so we had no idea there was such a troubling reason behind this student's failure to come to campus."

Human rights groups said the execution is troubling.

"The increasingly brutal Saudi Arabian regime has ramped up executions for protest-related offences in recent days, and this latest move is extremely worrying," said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve. "Mujtaba was a promising 17-year-old boy on his way to study in Michigan when he was arrested, beaten, and later sentenced to death on the basis of a 'confession' extracted through torture. He now faces the imminent threat of beheading along with 14 others, including at least one other juvenile and a young disabled man.

Foa said the executions would constitute an appalling breach of international law. Foa urged President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to "use their close ties to Saudi Arabia to make clear that these egregious abuses must stop - and the imminent executions be immediately stayed."

The American Federation of Teachers also urged Trump to get involved.

"Saudi Arabia's threat to behead its own citizens for attending an anti-government protest is an unthinkable and despicable violation of international law and basic humanity," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. "This group includes 2 youths - 1 of whom, Mujtaba'a al-Sweikat, was at the airport coming to the United States to attend college when he was arrested - a man with disabilities, and 11 other people. People must have a right to speak and associate freely. Should these executions occur, Saudi Arabia should be considered a pariah nation by the world.

"We implore President Trump, as the standard-bearer for our great nation, to do everything in his power to stop the atrocities that may otherwise take place in Saudi Arabia."

Western Michigan joined the call for Trump to get involved.

"The AFT information makes it clear that the critical national political figures with influence in such a situation are informed," Roland said. "We join the AFT in urging them to use that influence to ask the Saudi government to exhibit compassion."

Al-Sweikat was not allowed access to a lawyer at any point before or during the interrogations, according to Reprieve. He was forced to sign a "confession" document in relation to several alleged offenses, including attendance at protests. If he refused to admit to any allegations, he was again beaten, tortured and subjected to verbal abuse.

Initial reports were that Mujtaba was on his way to attend the University of Michigan. U-M officials spent 18 hours searching records going back several years at all of its campuses and were unable to locate him as a student - either one who enrolled or had been accepted, a spokeswoman told the Free Press.

Mujtaba is part of a group facing execution by beheading for offenses related to attending protests, Reprieve said. Reprieve obtained information about Mujtaba and the others from his friends.

They were convicted and sentenced to death by Saudi Arabia's controversial Specialised Criminal Court, which, although established to hear terrorism cases, has been used by authorities to silent dissent through the use of the death penalty, Reprieve said.

All 14 men and boys were transferred recently to Riyadh from Dammam Mabahith prison in preparation for their execution. However, the current execution practice is so shrouded in secrecy that not even their families know when they will be executed; only the King, who issues a decree ordering their execution, knows, Reprieve said in a briefing shared with the Free Press.

4 others were executed July 12 for similar protest-related charges.

Source: Detroit Free Press, July 17, 2017

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