Theresa May must urge Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to end child death sentences
December 6, 2016
The Prime Minister has been urged to use meetings today with Saudi and Kuwaiti leaders to call on both countries to end the use of the death penalty against children.
Ms May is ‘guest of honour’ at the GCC Summit in Manama, Bahrain, and is due to meet today with the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emir of Kuwait.
International human rights organisation Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister, asking her to use the Summit to raise the cases of three prisoners sentenced to death as children in Saudi Arabia; and to call on Kuwait to reverse its recently-announced plans to lower the age at which people become eligible for a death sentence to 16.
Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death Abdullah al Zaher, Dawoud al Marhoon and Ali al Nimr for alleged involvement in protests in the kingdom, despite their being 15, 17 and 17 respectively at the time of their arrest. All three were tortured into ‘confessions’ and convicted in secretive trials. They remain imprisoned under sentence of death and could be executed at any time, without even their families being informed beforehand. On 2nd January this year, several juveniles were among 47 people executed en masse in the Kingdom.
According to Gulf News, the Kuwaiti Government recently announced that, from 2017, the age of eligibility for the death penalty would be lowered to 16. The announcement was made by Bader Al Ghadhoori, the head of juvenile protection at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior, during a talk warning students about the use of social media and the internet.
Both Gulf States – as well as others such as Bahrain, which has a record of using the death penalty against political opponents – enjoy a close relationship with the British Government. Many have received support and training from the UK for their prison and police services, despite their use of the death penalty and torture to extract false ‘confessions.’
During 2016, Freedom of Information requests by Reprieve have revealed that:
- British Police have trained their Saudi counterparts in investigation techniques that could lead to the arrest, torture and sentencing to death of protesters;
- These projects have been undertaken without the safeguards that are supposed to be put in place under the Government’s flagship guidance on the death penalty and torture overseas – known as the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidance;
- An FCO project delivered by a Northern Irish government body has trained hundreds of Bahraini prison guards in the Kingdom’s death row jail.
Despite existing concerns over the risk of British complicity in abuses, the Prime Minister announced this morning that the UK would enter into a new phase of security cooperation, saying that “more than ever, Gulf security is our security”.
Reprieve’s letter, sent on 17 November, asks that the Prime Minister use her attendance at this week’s summit to:
- Urge the Saudi authorities to commute the death sentences of Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon, and Abdullah al Zaher, and those of any other juveniles facing the death penalty in the country;
- Request that Kuwait’s Government urgently call off its plans to lower to 16 the age at which individuals can receive the death penalty;
- Call on the Bahraini Government to commute the death sentences handed to two tortured protestors, Mohammed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa, and to release them.
Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:
“Across the Gulf, repressive Governments are seeking to execute children and protestors on politically-motivated charges, often following torture and forced ‘confessions.’ The UK says it’s supporting reform, but appalling abuses continue in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – and now Kuwait is threatening to sentence children to death. The Prime Minister must today make clear that new security ties will depend on an immediate halt to the use of the death penalty against children and protesters – and she must ensure any cooperation is subjected to rigorous and transparent human rights assessments. Otherwise, the UK risks becoming complicit in the use of the death penalty against children and protestors to crush dissent.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org
2. The full text of the letter to the Prime Minister is available on Reprieve’s website.