Shiite youths with death sentences commuted to 10 years in prison in Saudi Arabia Middle East

The Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced on Sunday that three young Shiite Muslims sentenced to death as minors had been sentenced to ten years in prison.

Ali Al-Nimr, nephew of a prominent Shiite clergyman who was executed in 2016 and sparked demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and Iran, was 17 when he was arrested in February 2012 for participating in protests in the country’s eastern province.

Along with Dawood a-Marhoun and Abdullah al-Zaher, who were 17 and 15 years old respectively when they were arrested, Nimr was sentenced to death by a specialized criminal court which ordered his beheading.

Nimr has spent more than nine years in prison since his arrest. His sentence was commuted this Sunday while Marhoun and Zaher saw their sentences commuted in November 2020, the HRC told Reuters.

The jail term applies in all three cases, the HRC said, and the youth will be released in 2022.

“Freedom soon, God willing,” wrote Nimr’s mother in a Facebook post, celebrating the news.

The Saudi Government’s Center for International Communication (CIC) has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The decision comes more than five months after a Saudi prosecutor ordered a review of the death penalty imposed on the three youths.

The review came after a royal decree last year that stipulated that those sentenced to death for juvenile offenses should be sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years in juvenile detention centers.

However, the decree was never published in the state media or in any official magazine, as would be the custom.

Western human rights and political interest groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the implementation of the decree, given that Nimr, Marhoun and Zaher and two other young offenders had not yet overturned their death sentences.

One of the five people appealed, and eight others were arrested when they were minors. They were still being charged, which could lead to their execution. Human rights groups that are closely monitoring the cases told Reuters in January.

On Sunday, the HRC reiterated that the royal decree would apply retrospectively to any case where a person was sentenced to death for crime when they were under the age of 18.

Reprieve, an organization against the death penalty, welcomed the news but reiterated that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must ensure that the decree is applied to all young people who have committed crimes.

“The real change isn’t just about the most serious cases. We need to ensure that no one in Saudi Arabia is sentenced to death for a “crime” committed in childhood, ”said Reprieve Director Maya Foa.

Despite Saudi Arabia executing a record 185 people in 2019, the HRC announced in January that the country had reduced the number by 85% in 2020, with 27 executions recorded in 2020.