RIYADH (Reuters) – A Saudi Arabian court handed down a new death sentence against a young man for crimes committed when he was a minor after a higher court overturned a previous ruling, his family said, in what rights groups called a “grossly unfair trial”.
Abdullah al-Huwaiti was arrested when he was 14 years old and sentenced to death three years later in 2019 on murder and armed robbery charges. A court overturned the conviction in November but, under Saudi law, a retrial followed.
“The Criminal Court in Tabuk (north west) sentenced the minor Abdullah al-Huwaiti in retribution,” his mother Um Abdullah wrote on Twitter after Wednesday’s ruling.
“After the Supreme Court overturned the first ruling because of false confessions, today it pronounces an unjust conviction just like last time.”
The Saudi government media office CIC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Saudi authorities had in 2020 scrapped the death penalty for juveniles and said they would apply this retroactively. The kingdom’s state-backed Human Rights Commission later clarified that the ban on the death penalty only applied to a lesser category of offences under Islamic law known as “ta’zeer.”
Wednesday’s ruling against Huwaiti was in the category of “qisas”, or retribution, usually for murder, which under Islamic law allows families of victims to demand the death sentence, compensation or to offer a pardon.
“Abdullah al-Howaiti has now been sentenced to death not once, but twice, by a court that knows he was fourteen years old when he was arrested and tortured,” Maya Foa, director of anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, said in a statement.
“How can this be when Saudi Arabia has claimed, so often and so vociferously, to have eliminated the death penalty for children?”
Huwaiti had been arrested along with five others and Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have said all six defendants told court sessions that interrogators had coerced their confessions through torture or the threat of it.
Saudi authorities have previously denied similar allegations about the use of torture.
In October, Ali Al-Nimr, a young Shi’ite Muslim whose death sentence had been commuted to 10 years in prison under the legislative reforms, was released from prison.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by William Maclean)