Saudi Arabia: Execution looms for teen tortured to “confess” to protest-related crimes

A young Saudi Arabian Shi’a man who claims he was tortured to “confess” alleged crimes committed when he was 16 years old faces imminent execution, in the latest shocking example of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless clampdown on dissent, said Amnesty International today.
The family of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, now 21, were yesterday informed that the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence for his alleged role in anti-government protests. He has now exhausted all his appeals and faces execution as soon as King Salman ratifies his sentence, which could happen at any time.
Al-Hawaj, who was sentenced to death in July 2016 after a grossly unfair trial, denies participating in any of the acts attributed to him.
“Saudi Arabia’s vicious crackdown on dissent appears to know no bounds. Its latest victim, a child at the time of his alleged crimes, now faces death at the hands of a repressive regime that uses the death penalty as a tool to crush dissent,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
“From his arbitrary arrest, to his torture in detention and unfair trial, the conviction of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj has made a mockery of justice. King Salman must step in to quash this sentence and order a retrial in line with international fair trial standards, without resorting to use of the death penalty.”
Due to the secrecy surrounding the judicial process in Saudi Arabia, it is unclear when the King would ratify the death sentence. Families are usually not informed about the ratification process and the scheduled execution of their relatives.
Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was sentenced to death last year for a range of offences related to his alleged involvement in anti-government protests in the Shi’a majority Eastern Province in 2012, when he was aged 16.
He had no access to a lawyer during his pre-trial detention and interrogations, and said that he was held in solitary confinement for the first five months following his arrest at a security checkpoint in 2012.
He also says he was beaten and threatened with the death of his family during interrogations by officials in the General Directorate of Investigations. Eventually he wrote and signed a “confession” that appears to be the sole basis for his conviction.
“Rather than sending Abdulkareem al-Hawaj to his death based on a statement possibly obtained through torture, the Saudi authorities should be investigating the claims that he was tortured by security officers,” said Lynn Maalouf.
“The authorities must also immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by persons below the age of 18 at the time of the crime.
Amnesty International has recorded a worrying increase in death sentences against political dissidents in Saudi Arabia since 2013, including the Shi’a Muslim minority.
The organization has documented the cases of at least 33 members of Saudi Arabia’s Shia community who are currently facing the death penalty. All were accused of activities deemed a risk to national security. Three others who remain on death row awaiting execution, Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, were also arrested for alleged offences committed when they were under 18 and have said that they were tortured to make them “confess”.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners and uses the death penalty for a wide range of offences such as murder, drug-related crimes and terrorism. At least 85 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2017, including 44 in the past two months.
Last week, the family of another man on death row, Said Mabkhout al-Sai’ari, who was convicted on murder charges, learned that he will be executed on 13 September. The court sentenced him to death despite concluding that there was not enough evidence, relying on the statements of the victim’s father, who swore 50 times in court that he believed Said Mabkhout al-Sai’ari was responsible for the murder of his son even though he was not present at the crime scene.