Case proceeds against Saudi child defendant facing death penalty

October 30, 2020

Image of Mohammed Essam al Faraj

A Saudi Arabian court has proceeded with a case against a child defendant at risk of the death penalty, contradicting the Saudi Government’s claim it has abolished capital punishment for children.

In a hearing on Thursday, Saudi public prosecutors moved forward with their case against Mohammed al Faraj, who was 15 years old when he was arrested outside a bowling alley in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in 2017. Mohammed was held in an adult prison and tortured until he signed a ‘confession’. Among the ‘crimes’ he was accused of was attending a funeral of a relative when he was just 9 years old. He was denied access to a lawyer, and faces a death sentence.  

Recent months have seen repeated claims by Saudi authorities that death sentencing for children has been abolished. These claims began with the announcement of a Royal Decree abolishing the death penalty for children in April 2020, and the Saudi Human Rights Commission has upheld this claim as recently as 21st October, in a  statement condemning “inaccurate and confused assertions” by human rights groups critiquing Saudi Arabia’s failure to implement its promises.

Thursday’s hearing presented an opportunity for the Public Prosecution to withdraw its demand for the death sentence against Mohammad, and for the Saudi Government to show progress against its Royal Decree and subsequent promises to the international community. 

However, this did not happen, and Mohammad continues to be at risk of being sentenced to death for “crimes” that include attending a funeral when he was just nine years old.

Taha al-Hajji, ESOHR Legal Officer and Saudi Death Penalty Attorney, said:

“This was to be a watershed moment in Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the death penalty. Saudi authorities had promised to end the demand for the death penalty against all children. International attention was affixed on the issue. Embassies from multiple abolitionist countries were in attendance. And the Saudi government punted. How are we to take their promises seriously, when those promises are so often empty?” 

Maya Foa, Reprieve’s Interim Executive Director, said:

“The fact Mohammed is still at risk of a death sentence, despite being arrested at age 15 for ‘crimes’ committed when he was as young as nine, totally undermines the Saudi Government’s claim to have abolished capital punishment for children. If the international community is to place any faith in these high profile pledges, the Saudi public prosecution should withdraw its demand that Mohammed receive a death sentence”.