Doubts over Saudi-UK ‘assurances’ on juvenile executions

October 21, 2016

Image of Ali al-Nimr

Three Saudi juveniles remain on death row, one year after the UK began seeking ‘assurances’ that they would not be executed.

Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, Ali al Nimr, and Dawood al-Marhoon were aged 15, 17 and 17 respectively when they were arrested for allegedly taking part in protests in the country’s eastern province. All three face beheading after they were sentenced in the secretive Specialised Criminal Court, on the basis of ‘confessions’ they signed following torture. Last September, the death sentences of the three were upheld, and they could now be executed at any time.

The UK has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and for the past year, the UK Foreign Office has sought regular ‘assurances’ from the Saudi government that the three would not be executed. Last month, Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood told Parliament: “our expectation remains that they will not be executed.”

However, the three juveniles remain on death row, and their families say that they fear the executions could go ahead without warning. Speaking to Channel 4 last month, Ali al Nimr’s father, Mohammed al Nimr, said that his son was “waiting to be called” to the “execution square.”

Concerns for the three juveniles have been heightened by recent reports of other rights abuses in the country. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Saudi authorities had executed a member of the royal family for the first time in 40 years; while Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, is said to be facing a new round of ‘lashes’ as part of a flogging sentence handed down for his criticisms of the government.

The British government has so far stopped short of calling for the three juveniles’ death sentences to be scrapped – something that other governments, such as France, have done. Human rights organization Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, asking her to request that Saudi Arabia commute the sentences.

In January this year, several juveniles were among 47 prisoners executed en masse in the Kingdom. They included Ali al-Ribh, a teenager from the Eastern Province who, like Ali, Abdullah and Dawood, was arrested in school in the wake of protests. Last week, a UK Foreign Office minister said that she was “horrified” by news of the mass execution.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:

“It’s appalling that Ali al Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon could be beheaded at any moment for the so-called ‘crime’ of attending a protest. Saudi Arabia’s ‘assurances’ that they won’t execute these three boys count for nothing when the Kingdom has continued to behead juveniles and other prisoners, many of whom were tortured into bogus ‘confessions.’ Theresa May must call urgently for these death sentences to be scrapped.”


Notes to editors:

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 20 7553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. More detail on the cases are available on the Reprieve website here

3. FCO minister Tobias Elwood recently said in answer to a Parliamentary Question last month that: “We most recently got assurances on 7 September and our expectation remains that they will not be executed.”

4. Baroness Anelay’s comments on the Saudi mass executions are available here.

5. Reports of the execution of a Saudi royal are here, and of the latest in Mr Badawi’s case here.

6. France called for Ali al Nimr’s execution to be cancelled in October 2015, as reported here.