Saudi commission insists no minors to face death penalty

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Saudi Arabian governmental body on Thursday insisted that executions have been abolished for crimes committed by minors, after Human Rights Watch said earlier this week that Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a number of young men from the predominantly Shiite eastern region of the kingdom for protest-related crimes they allegedly committed as children.

The Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission, which monitors human rights-related complaints and cases, said it “has found no basis to substantiate Human Rights Watch’s claim that Saudi prosecutors still seek the death sentences for juvenile offenders.”

“We are confident that Saudi prosecutors will fully uphold Saudi law,” the commission said, and referred to a royal order in March that abolished the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes committed as minors.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday warned that Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against eight Saudi men charged with protest-related crimes, some of which they allegedly committed as children between 14 and 17 years old.

The charges include “seeking to destabilize the social fabric by participating in protests and funeral processions,” “chanting slogans hostile to the regime,” and ”seeking to incite discord and division.”

The New York-based independent rights group said it obtained and analyzed the charge sheets for two group trials that included the eight men in 2019. The youngest of the group is now 18 and was arrested at age 15 for nonviolent offenses that include, among other alleged crimes, participating in demonstrations and funeral processions when he was as young as nine.

Human Rights Watch said prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the eight men under a provision of Islamic law that carries specific penalties for serious crimes.

The Saudi Human Rights Commission, however, insisted that no one in Saudi Arabia will be executed for a crime committed as a minor in accordance with the royal decree issued earlier this year. The commission said the law allows for a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for crimes committed by individuals as minors.

The kingdom has one of the world’s highest rates of execution. Last year, Saudi Arabia executed a young man convicted of crimes that took place when he was 16 years old for offences related to his participation in anti-government Shiite-led protests.