Execution of Man Convicted of Murder When He Was 14 Has Been Blocked

Human rights watchers had questioned Saudi Arabia's claims of reform
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2021 1:59 AM CDT
Updated Nov 15, 2021 2:31 AM CST
Despite Claims of Reform, Saudi Arabia Plans to Execute Teen
FILE - In this June 15, 2020 file photo, a banner showing Saudi King Salman, right, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, hangs outside a mall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.   (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

(Newser) Update: The conviction of a Saudi man sentenced to death in a controversial case has been overturned by Saudi Arabia's top court, human rights groups announced last week. Abdullah al-Huwaiti, now 19, was found guilty of killing a police officer after robbing a jewelry store when he was 14, but human rights advocates said he confessed under duress. International conventions also bar those who were minors at the time of their crimes from being sentenced to death. A retrial is now expected in a lower court, but it's not clear whether the death penalty will still e sought by prosecutors, the New York Times reports. Our original story from Aug. 16 follows:

Saudi Arabia claimed last year that it would no longer sentence minors to death in most cases, and yet a 19-year-old currently sits on the country's death row for a crime he was found guilty of committing at age 14. The case, like other recent ones, raises questions about how sincere Saudi Arabia was in its promises of criminal justice reform, the New York Times reports in an extensive look at the case of Abdullah al-Huwaiti. The teen was convicted of robbing a store, shooting two employees, and killing a police officer, and since the crime is in a category whose punishment is dictated by Islamic scriptures (violent robbery), the country's reforms don't apply to him.

But, as the Times explains and as organizations like Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have pointed out in the past, questions swirl around al-Huwaiti's conviction. The teen says his confession was coerced by interrogators who claimed his mother and sisters were in custody and would not be released unless he admitted to the crime, threatened to harm his relatives, beat him, and kept him from sleeping. But the court ignored his request to revoke the confession, and also dismissed evidence that celphone data and surveillance footage placed him somewhere else when the robbery took place. His case is currently before Saudi Arabia's highest court for review. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)

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