Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr was 17 years old when he went to an anti-government protest in the Saudi Arabian province of Qatif. He was accused by the government of carrying a firearm, attacking security forces and even armed robbery. None of those charges could be proven but he confessed nonetheless. He didn’t have a lawyer and some say the confession was drawn from the teenager via torture.
His sentence is due to be carried out by beheading and crucifixion, a method that involves removing the head of the prisoner and tying their headless body to a cross.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most prolific executioners in the world, putting more than 2,200 people to death between 1985 and 2015. Between January and the end of August 2015, it executed at least 130 people, almost half of them for offences that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law.
Saudi Arabia also sentences people to death, and executes them, for crimes committed when they were below 18 years of age, in violation of the country’s obligations under customary international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The authorities repeatedly fail to abide by international standards for fair trial and UN Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. Too often trials in death penalty cases are held in secret and their proceedings are unfair and summary, with no legal assistance or representation through the various stages of detention and trial. Defendants may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture or other ill-treatment, duress or deception.
Tensions between members of the Shi’a Muslim community and the Saudi Arabian authorities have increased since 2011 when, inspired in part by protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa region, Saudi Arabians in the Kingdom’s predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province stepped up public calls for reforms. Since 2011, demonstrations have also been organized to protest against the arrest, imprisonment and harassment of members of the Shi’a community for holding collective prayer meetings, celebrating Shi’a Muslim religious festivals and breaching restrictions on building Shi’a mosques.
The Saudi Arabian authorities have responded with repressive measures against those suspected of taking part in or supporting protests or expressing views critical of the state. Protesters have been held without charge and incommunicado for days or weeks at a time, and some are reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Nearly 20 people connected with protests in the Eastern Province have been killed since 2011 and hundreds have been imprisoned. Of those whose cases have moved to the courts, many have been charged solely with taking part in demonstrations.
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