Saudi top court overturns death sentence of man convicted as minor

A Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

A Saudi court overturned a conviction on a death penalty charge for a young man following what rights groups called a “grossly unfair trial” for crimes committed when he was a minor, his family said on Wednesday.

“The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia overturned the judgment on behalf of my youngest son, Abdullah al-Huwaiti,” his mother wrote on Twitter, thanking everyone who stood by her.

Saudi law stipulates that there must now be a retrial in his case, the anti-death penalty charity Reprieve said.

Although he is no longer at risk of imminent execution, Huwaiti could still be sentenced to death at a later stage.

Huwaiti was arrested when he was 14 years old and sentenced to death three years later on murder and armed robbery charges along with five other defendants, in a case closely monitored by rights groups.

Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have said all six defendants in his case told the court at trial that the interrogators coerced their confessions through torture or the threat of it.

In 2020, Saudi authorities scrapped the death penalty for juveniles and said they would apply this retroactively.

The kingdom’s state-backed Human Rights Commission later clarified that the ban only applied to a lesser category of offense under Islamic law known as “ta’zeer.”

This means that judges can still sentence child offenders to death under the other two categories, according to Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of sharia: “houdoud”, or serious crimes that carry a prescribed punishment, including terrorism, and “qisas”, or retribution, usually for murder.

Huwaiti was convicted on a “houdoud” charge.

“We remain concerned for Abdullah Al-Howaiti’s life, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi lawyer with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights.

Last month, Ali Al-Nimr, a young Shi’ite Muslim whose death sentence had been commuted to 10 years in prison under those legislative reforms, was released from prison.

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