Saudi man arrested as juvenile could face execution despite reforms - Human Rights Watch

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DUBAI, April 1 (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch says a Saudi man who was convicted following a "grossly unfair trial" for crimes committed when he was a minor risks being executed although the Saudi authorities have said they have scrapped the death penalty for juveniles.

Abdullah al-Huwaiti was convicted by a criminal court in October 2019 when he was 17, on murder and armed robbery charges along with five other defendants, HRW said in a statement on Wednesday. He was arrested when he was 14, the rights group said, for crimes allegedly committed in 2017.

The Saudi government media office did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

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HRW said Huwaiti was sentenced to death and ordered to pay 1,315,000 SAR($350,000) in restitution to the victims. His case is due to be transferred to Riyadh's Supreme Court for a final ruling.

HRW said all six defendants told the court at trial that the interrogators coerced their confessions through torture or the threat of it.

"Al-Huwaiti's court proceedings flouted almost every internationally recognizable fair trial guarantee," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Saudi authorities said last year that they would stop sentencing to death people who committed crimes while minors and would apply this retroactively.

However, the March 2020 royal decree announcing this was not reported by state media or published in the official gazette as would be normal practice. Human rights groups and western lawmakers had raised concerns about its implementation.

Asked whether the decree applied to all types of crimes, the state-backed Human Rights Commission told Reuters in February that the ban only applied to a lesser category of offense under Islamic law known as "ta'zeer."

This would mean judges can therefore 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.

($1 = 3.7501 riyals)

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Reporting by Raya Jalabi

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