PM must help Saudi juveniles who face beheading

April 4, 2017

Image of Theresa May and Saudi Arabian officials

Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to use a visit to Saudi Arabia today to press for the release of three juveniles who face beheading for allegedly attending protests.

Mrs May is in Saudi Arabia today for talks that the Government says are focused on increasing trade and security relations with the Kingdom. The visit takes place amid fears for three prisoners who were arrested as children in 2012, and who were sentenced to death on charges relating to protests. Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawood al-Marhoon and Ali al-Nimr were sentenced to beheading and, in Ali’s case, ‘crucifixion’ despite their being 15, 17 and 17 respectively at the time of their arrest.

All three juveniles were tortured into forced ‘confessions’, and convicted in secretive trials. They remain imprisoned, and could be executed at any time without notice being given to their families.

International human rights organisation Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister about the cases, and asked her to call on the Saudi authorities to release the three and commute their sentences. The Foreign Office has said, as recently as last week, that the UK “remains concerned about [the] cases.” However, the UK appears not to have requested the release of the three young men.

Reprieve has previously raised concerns that UK funding and training for Saudi security bodies could be contributing to human rights abuses in the Kingdom, including the death penalty. Reprieve discovered that British police have trained their Saudi counterparts in investigation techniques that could lead to the arrest, torture and sentencing to death of protesters; and that these projects have been undertaken without proper safeguards.

Last year, several juveniles were among 47 people executed en masse in the Kingdom. At least one – Ali al-Ribh – was convicted on charges relating to protests, as were Abdullah, Dawood and Ali.

A prominent group of UN experts has called on the Saudi authorities to “release all three minors immediately.”

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch – a deputy director at Reprieve – said:

“The Prime Minister is seeking closer ties with the Saudi authorities, including on security cooperation, even while the Kingdom’s security sector carries out appalling abuses – from torture and forced ‘confessions’ to the death penalty for juveniles. The Prime Minister’s desire to promote Gulf relations must not see Britain compromise our commitment to human rights. Theresa May must make clear on this trip that the UK condemns the Kingdom’s use of torture and executions – and she must call for the immediate release of Ali, Dawood and Abdullah.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.