UK to ‘raise case’ of juvenile set for Saudi crucifixion, while US stays silent

September 25, 2015

Images of Ali al-Nimr

UPDATE: The US State Department has expressed “concern” at the Saudi authorities’ plans to execute Ali, saying: “We call on the government of Saudi Arabia to respect universal human rights and its international obligations to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings that afford requisite fair trial and safeguards in this and on all cases.”

The British government has said it will “urgently” raise with Saudi Arabia the case of a juvenile sentenced to ‘crucifixion’– but has given no indication that it will withdraw a controversial bid for a contract with the Saudi justice system, while criticism of the US grows for its silence on the case.

In a statement to Reuters last night on the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr – sentenced to death in the wake of pro-democracy protests – the Foreign Office said: “We understand that Ali Mohammed Al Nimr’s legal process has finished and his final appeal has been denied. We will raise this case urgently with the Saudi authorities.” The spokesperson added: “The abolition of the death penalty is a human rights priority for the UK. The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.”

The UK’s intervention comes amid controversy over an ongoing Ministry of Justice bid for a contract to provide services to the Saudi prison system. UK Ministers had to correct the Parliamentary record recently after wrongly claiming that they were unable to drop the bid due to the risk of “financial penalties.”  The only reason now given for continuing with the bid is that “withdrawing at this late stage would be detrimental to [Her Majesty’s Government’s] wider interests.”

The United States has also faced criticism for its silence on the case. When asked about it earlier this week, a US State Department spokesperson refused to comment, but said he ‘welcomed’ the appointing of a Saudi representative to a senior position on the UN’s Human Rights Council.

Ali was 17 when he was arrested in May 2012 in the country’s Eastern Province. He was tortured into ‘confessing’ to a role in protests, and despite later recanting his statement, he was sentenced to be ‘crucified’ by the country’s secretive Specialized Criminal Court. Last week, it emerged that his sentence had been upheld without his knowledge.

Ali has never been permitted to meet with his lawyer, and with legal avenues now exhausted, he could be executed at any moment with no prior notification to his family. The sentence will involve his being beheaded, and his body displayed in public.

The UK’s Saudi contract bid follows the government’s recent abandonment of both its strategy to end the death penalty around the world, and its use of the term ‘countries of concern’ when assessing the human rights records of states including Saudi Arabia. Human rights organization Reprieve has called the retreat “disastrous” at a time when Saudi Arabia and others, such as Iran and Pakistan, are presiding over a surge in executions.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, said:

“The Saudi government’s plans to ‘crucify’ Ali al-Nimr are appalling, so it’s welcome that the Foreign Office is now joining other countries in raising Ali’s case with the Saudi government. But by insisting on pursuing business with the Saudi justice system, the UK continues to indicate to the Saudis that we condone the most extreme abuses, such as Ali’s torture and brutal death sentence. Sadly the silence of the US government sends the same terrible message. These two countries – among the strongest allies of the Saudi government – must take real action without delay to stop Ali from being killed.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8140 / or alice [dot] gillham [at] reprieve [dot]

2. The US State Department spokesperson’s comments are here.

3. The British government’s statement is available from Reuters, while details of the UK’s bid for a Saudi contract can be seen here.

4. Concerns have also been raised about Ali’s case by the French and Irish governments, as well as by a group of UN experts (available here).