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Saudi Arabia: Death Penalty Against Juvenile Offender Amounts To Arbitrary Deprivation Of Life, Say UN Experts

GENEVA (31 May 2022) – UN human rights experts* today
called on the Government of Saudi Arabia to immediately
release Abdullah al-Howaiti and quash the death penalty
against him for crimes he allegedly committed as a
child.

Al-Howaiti was arrested in May 2017, when he
was only 14 years old, accused of robbery and murder, and
convicted, despite having an alibi, based on a confession of
guilt extracted under torture and other ill-treatment.
Al-Howaiti was recently sentenced to death for a second time
after his original conviction was overturned by the Saudi
Supreme Court in 2021.

“We are alarmed by the
confirmation of the death sentence against Mr. Al-Howaiti,
on 2 March 2022, without initiating any investigation into
the allegations of torture or determining the veracity of
the coerced confession of guilt,” the experts
said.

If confirmed by the Court of Appeal, the death
penalty would be final and Al-Howaiti will be at an imminent
risk of execution.

The UN experts were dismayed by the
conviction of Al-Howaiti following a trial marred with due
process irregularities, including failure to consider an
alibi, the dismissal of allegations of torture and
ill-treatment and the admission of torture tainted
confessions as incriminating evidence, without proper
investigation.

“We would like to remind the Saudi
authorities of their obligation to conduct a prompt and
impartial investigation wherever there are reasonable
grounds to believe that torture has been committed, and to
exclude any evidence obtained through torture and coercion
from judicial proceedings,” they said.

The
imposition of the death penalty on children is absolutely
prohibited under international law. No exception or
derogation from this prohibition is possible under any
circumstances, the UN experts recalled.

“We urge the
Saudi Government to adopt without delay the necessary
legislative measures to abolish the imposition of the death
penalty for children for all crimes, including in relation
to offences punished under qisas and hudud,”
the experts said. Qisas is a category of retributive
justice for murder in Saudi Arabia, which allows families of
the victims to demand the death sentence, compensation or
offer a pardon, while hudud refers to Islamic penal
law or Quranic punishments for
offences including theft, brigandage, adultery and
apostasy.

In November 2021, the Working Group on
Arbitrary Detention concluded in its opinion
No. 72/2021
that the detention of Al-Howaiti was
arbitrary.

“Prolonged incommunicado detention can
facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and can in
itself constitute a form of such treatment,” the experts
said.

The UN experts have previously
expressed their concerns regarding this case to the
Government of Saudi Arabia. They reiterated their request to
the authorities to take immediate measures to protect the
moral and physical integrity of Abdullah Al-Howaiti,
considering his age and vulnerability.

*The
experts: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Ms. Miriam
Estrada-Castillo
(Chair-Rapporteur), Mr.
Mumba Malila
(Vice-Chair), Ms. Elina
Steinerte, Mr. Matthew Gillett, Ms. Priya Gopalan; Mr.
Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial,
summary or arbitrary
executions.

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