SAUDI ARABIA ENDS EXECUTIONS FOR CRIMES COMMITTED BY MINORS
|King Salman bin Abdulaziz
April 27, 2020:
Saudi Arabia's King Salman has ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors, according to a statement on 26 April 2020 by a top official. (Sources: AP, 26/04/2020)
The decision comes on the heels of another ordering judges to end the practice of flogging, replacing it with jail time, fines or community service and bringing one of the kingdom’s most controversial forms of public punishment to a close.
King Salman's son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is seen as the force behind the kingdom’s loosening of restrictions and its pivot away from ultraconservative interpretations of Islamic law known as Wahhabism, which many in the country still closely adhere to.
The latest royal decree by King Salman could spare the death penalty for at least six men from the country’s minority Shiite community who allegedly committed crimes while under the age of 18, including Ali al-Nimr, who had participated in anti-government protests. Such activity carries terrorism-related charges in the kingdom for disturbing order and disobeying the ruler.
In a document seen by The Associated Press, the royal decree orders prosecutors to review cases and drop punishments for those who've already served the maximum 10 years.
However, the decree states that terrorism-related cases of minors will be tried differently. It was not immediately clear whether these cases would be bound by the 10-year prison limit.
The president of the Saudi government's Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, confirmed the latest decision in a statement on 26 April, saying it helps the kingdom establish “a more modern penal code and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms.”
He said “more reforms will be coming,” and that the two decisions “reflect how Saudi Arabia is forging ahead in its realization of critical human rights reforms even amid the hardship imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic."
The decree expands on a previous order by King Salman issued in late 2018, which set a maximum 10-year prison term for minors in certain cases, except for crimes punishable by death. Now the 10-year maximum applies to all crimes by minors, with the possible exception of terrorism-related crimes.
“This step, if true, needs to nullify current death sentences of all children,” Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi rights activist in Washington, said.
Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court recently issued a directive to end flogging as a form of punishment sometime in April, according to another document seen by The Associated Press.
The Supreme Court document said the decision was in line with the kingdom's reforms and developments in the realm of human rights as directed by King Salman and overseen by the crown prince.
While some crimes, such as murder, may carry fixed punishments under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, many other offenses are considered “tazir," meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam.
Discretionary judgments for “tazir” crimes, such as flogging, have led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes. Muslim countries generally do not practice public flogging.
“This is a good step but we are still waiting to see if existing lashing sentences will be reversed and expunged,” al-Ahmed said.