Boris Johnson must raise juvenile death sentences in Saudi meeting – Reprieve
July 19, 2016
The new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has been urged to use a meeting today with the Saudi Foreign Minister to call for an end to juvenile executions in Saudi Arabia.
According to a Foreign Office statement this morning, Mr Johnson is due to host the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, later today, in one of a series of first meetings with the UK’s “international partners”. The meeting will reportedly take place alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Minister of the UAE.
The meeting takes place amid concerns over Saudi Arabia’s practice of juvenile executions – in particular, the cases of Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Dawood al-Marhoon. All three face beheading, despite having been juveniles when they were arrested in 2012. The three, who were arrested for allegedly attending protests, were tortured into signing ‘confessions’ which were used to convict them in secretive trials. The death sentences for all three juveniles were upheld last autumn, and they could now be executed at any time.
Although the use of the death penalty against juveniles is prohibited under international law, Saudi Arabia has executed at least four juveniles this year – including Ali Al Ribh, who was arrested at 2012 protests and executed during a mass execution of 47 people in January. The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights has said that currently “there is an execution every two days” in Saudi Arabia, and that there were now “alarm bells” for Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, among others on the country’s death row.
The Foreign Office said last month that it has raised the three juveniles’ cases with Saudi Arabia, and that “our expectation is that Ali al-Nimr and the two others will not be executed.” However, the UK appears not to have requested that their death sentences be commuted, and the three juveniles released.
Mr Johnson’s meeting follows recent concerns that the UK could be risking complicity with the kinds of abuses suffered by the juveniles. Last month, an internal UK government report uncovered by human rights organization Reprieve stated that Britain’s College of Policing was teaching the Saudi Interior Ministry high-tech forensic skills that could be “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured.” Earlier this month, a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted the Foreign Office’s refusal to provide details of the College’s contracts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, branding it “totally unacceptable”.
Today’s meeting also comes after members of the European Parliament urged Federica Mogherini – the EU’s Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – to ask the Saudi Foreign Minister to review all death sentences issued to juveniles, and to commute the sentences handed to Ali, Dawood and Abdullah. However, following a meeting between Ms Mogherini and Mr Jubeir yesterday, it was not clear whether the cases were raised.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“Today’s meeting takes place while at least three juveniles await execution in Saudi Arabia – all having faced torture, forced ‘confessions’ and secret trials. Many others in line for beheading were arrested for non-violent alleged crimes, such as political protest. Now more than ever, the UK must make clear that these abuses are unacceptable. The new Foreign Secretary must urgently call on Saudi Arabia to release Ali, Abdullah, and Dawood – and to investigate how many others on its death row may have been convicted as children.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. Mr Johnson’s meeting with his Saudi counterpart was announced here.
3. Details on the juveniles’ cases are available at the Reprieve website (Ali al-Nimr Dawood al Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher await execution, while Ali al Ribh was among 47 people executed on January 2nd, 2016).
5. The Foreign Office’s comments on the cases last month are available here.