Saudi Arabia has executed a man for offences rights groups say he allegedly committed while under the age of 18, despite Riyadh’s insistence that it has abolished death sentences for many childhood crimes.
Mustafa Hashem al-Darwish was arrested in May 2015 and charged with protest-related offences, many of which occurred when he was 17.
Now 26, he was executed yesterday in the eastern coastal city of Dammam, a statement from the interior ministry said. The eastern province is home to the country’s restive Shiite minority.
Last year, Saudi authorities said they would stop sentencing to death people who committed crimes while minors. They would instead serve up to 10 years in juvenile detention.
However, the March 2020 royal decree was never reported by state media nor published in the official gazette as would be normal practice.
The state-backed Human Rights Commission told Reuters in February that the ban only applied to a lesser category of offence under Islamic law known as “ta’zeer”. Mustafa was apparently convicted for “ta’zeer” offences.
In his charge sheet, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Mustafa was accused of “participating in armed rebellion”, “seeking to disturb security by rioting” and “sowing discord”, among other charges.
The evidence cited included a picture “offensive to the security forces”, a signed confession and ‘other proof’ of his participation in more than ten “riot” gatherings in 2011 and 2012.
However, the documents do not specify the exact months of the alleged offences, and rights groups say Mustafa was 17 at the time of his alleged participation in many of the protests and therefore his case should have been reviewed under the reformed law.
Anti-death penalty charity Reprieve and Amnesty International said his confession was obtained under duress and that he recanted his confession, which he said was obtained through torture.
Reprieve said Mustafa’s family received no advance notice of his fate and only found out he had been executed by reading the news online.
“How can they execute a boy because of a photograph on his phone?” his family said in a statement. “Since his arrest, we have known nothing but pain. It is a living death for the whole family.”
Human rights groups and western lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about the implementation or not of the reforms.
Earlier this month, a group of British MPs urged Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to ask for a commutation of Mustafa’s sentence on his visit to Riyadh, in a letter seen by Reuters.
In a statement following Raab’s visit and meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the UK foreign office said Raab had raised human rights concerns “notably around justice reform”.
Saudi Arabia carried out 184 executions in 2019, and 27 executions in 2020. The drastic reduction is due to a moratorium on death penalties for drug-related offences.
On 23 April 2019, the desert kingdom carried out a mass execution of 37 on the basis of confessions allegedly obtained under coercion and torture for terrorism-related allegations.
Executions take the form of public beheading with a sword.