Saudi Arabia's execution record will hit an "appalling new low" if it follows through with a sentence on a Saudi man for crimes related to a 2011 protest movement, committed when he was only 17, an international human rights group said on Wednesday.
US-based Human Rights Watch claimed the trial of Ali al-Nimr was marred by "serious due process violations", and the court failed to investigate his allegations that he had been tortured in detention.
The Specialized Criminal Court sentenced him to death in 2014 after convicting him on charges related to an uprising by the country’s minority Shia in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province in 2011.
The Saudi news website Okaz reported on Monday that a Saudi appeals court and the country’s Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence. The sentence requires the king’s approval before it can be carried out.
“Saudi Arabia has been on an execution spree in 2015, but beheading a child offender whose trial was unfair would be an appalling new low,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director.
“King Salman should immediately quash al-Nimr’s conviction and order a new trial that guarantees him a fair hearing.”
Since January 1, Saudi Arabia has executed 135 people, compared with 88 in all of 2014. Most executions are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public. Saudi Arabia executed three child offenders in 2013.
Human Rights Watch said mostly Shia residents of Eastern Province towns such as Qatif, Awamiyya, and Hufuf have repeatedly held protests over alleged discrimination by the government since 2011.
It added that al-Nimr’s paternal uncle, the prominent Shia cleric and government critic Nimr al-Nimr, also faces execution.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that it had reviewed the court judgment in al-Nimr’s case, and had found "serious flaws" in his trial.
International law prohibits executing people for crimes committed as children and restricts its application to the most serious crimes.
“Unfair trials of Shia citizens amount to no more than a legal veneer for state repression of their demands to end long-term discrimination,” Stork said. “The authorities should not compound their repression by killing a child offender.”
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