Saudi Arabia must not use the death penalty to punish a young man who was arrested at the age of 13 for participating in anti-government protests, said Amnesty International today.
The organization has confirmed that Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution sought the death penalty for Murtaja Qureiris in August 2018 for a series of offences, some of which date back to when he was just 10 years old. CNN had revealed this week that he is facing the death penalty and published video footage showing him participating in bike protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province as a young boy in 2011.
“There should be no doubt that the Saudi Arabian authorities are ready to go to any length to crack down on dissent against their own citizens, including by resorting to the death penalty for men who were merely boys at the time of their arrest,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf.
“It is appalling that Murtaja Qureiris is facing execution for offences that include taking part in protests while he was just 10 years old.”
The use of the death penalty for offences committed by people below 18 years of age is strictly prohibited by international law.
Mainly populated by Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority, the Eastern Province saw waves of protests in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings which the authorities have cracked down over the years, including through prosecutions.
Murtaja Qureiris, now aged 18, was arrested in September 2014 and detained at Dar al-Mulahaza at the juvenile detention centre in al-Dammam city. He was held in solitary confinement for a month and subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation. His interrogators promised to release him if he confessed to the charges against him. In May 2017 he was moved to al-Mabaheth prison in al-Dammam, an adult prison, even though he was just 16 years old. Throughout his detention he was denied access to a lawyer until after his first court session in August 2018 at the Specialized Criminal Court, an anti-terror court set up in 2008, that has increasingly been used for cases involving human rights activists and protesters.
The charges against him include participating in anti-government protests, attending the funeral of his brother Ali Qureiris who was killed in a protest in 2011, joining a “terrorist organization,” throwing Molotov cocktails at a police station, and firing at security forces. He is currently awaiting his next trial session.
“The Saudi Arabian authorities have a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters -including children- from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority,” said Lynn Maalouf.
In April, Amnesty International confirmed the execution of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, another Shi’a young man arrested aged 16 and convicted of offences related to his involvement in anti-government protests. He was among 37 men put to death in one day as part of a gruesome execution spree earlier this year.
Three other Shi’a men Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, who were arrested individually in 2012 aged 17, 16 and 17 respectively, in connection with their involvement in anti-government protests, are at risk of being executed at any time.
“Instead of stepping up their use of the death penalty to silence critics Saudi Arabia’s authorities should immediately revoke the death sentences against Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon and save these young men’s lives. The international community also has a crucial role – they must take a public stand on these cases and demand that the Saudi authorities end their use of the death penalty once and for all,” said Lynn Maalouf.
Saudi Arabia has an appalling record of using the death penalty – including against children – after grossly unfair trials that rely on confessions extracted through torture. Use of the death penalty is appalling in all circumstances but it is even more so when it is applied after an unfair trial. Amnesty International opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances without exception.
Since 2014 more than 100 Shi’a Saudi Arabians have been tried before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) on vague and wide-ranging charges arising from their opposition to the government, including peaceful criticism of the authorities.
Amnesty International has documented that a number of cases of Shi’a activists tried before the SCC have faced grossly unfair trials with defendants convicted and, in many cases, sentenced to death on vague charges that criminalise peaceful opposition and on the basis of “confessions” extracted through torture or other coercive means.