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Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court issues new death sentence against man arrested as juvenile

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file picture shows Saudi minor Abdullah al-Huwaiti, after he was arrested when he was 14 years old and sentenced to death later in 2019 on murder and armed robbery charges. (Photo via Twitter)

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has handed down a new death sentence against a young man, whose previous ruling for alleged crimes committed when he was a minor was overturned last year.

Abdullah al-Huwaiti was arrested in 2017 when he was 14 years old, and given the death penalty after being convicted on murder and armed robbery charges.

A court overturned the conviction in November last year, but Huwaiti was retried by a Tabuk criminal court under qisas – a form of retributive justice that allows the family of the victim to demand a death sentence, diya (blood money), or offer a pardon. 

Huwaiti's mother announced the news of the court's sentence in a series of tweets, and called on King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to intervene to save her son’s life.

“Tabuk Criminal Court rules with injustice and sentences Abdullah with qisas. After the Supreme Court overturned the initial ruling because of the false confessions, today they hand down their judgment and injustice as they had previously done. We do not know the important person who is being protected whilst they sacrifice Abdullah. Allah is sufficient for us,” she wrote.

Huwaiti's original trial had been marked by controversy, as the evidence used against him and how it had been obtained was questioned by human rights organizations.

He was held incommunicado for four months after his arrest in May 2017, and denied access to a lawyer.

Huwaiti was interrogated under torture, including being whipped with electrical wire and was beaten to the point that he could not walk for days, according to the rights group Reprieve.

"Abdullah al-Huwaiti has now been sentenced to death not once, but twice, by a court that knows he was 14 years old when he was arrested and tortured," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said.

She added, “How can this be when Saudi Arabia has claimed, so often and so vociferously, to have eliminated the death penalty for children?”

Back in 2020, Saudi Arabia’s state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC), citing a royal decree by King Salman, said in a statement that the country will no longer impose the death sentence on individuals who committed crimes while they were still minors.

The so-called Saudi Human Rights Commission, however, later clarified that the decree to revoke death sentences for minors does not apply to all types of crimes, and the ban only applies to a lesser category of offense under Sharia law known as “ta’zeer.”

This means Saudi judges can therefore still sentence child offenders to death under the other two major types of punishments: “hudud” or harsher punishment for serious crimes that carry a prescribed punishment like terrorism, and “qisas”, or retribution, usually for murder.

Rights group: Saudi Arabia put dozen minors to death under King Salman

Meanwhile, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) says Saudi authorities have executed a dozen minor under the seven-year reign of King Salman.

The human rights organization stated that five people are currently at risk of execution in Saudi Arabia.

Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.

Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedoms of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

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