Ali al Nimr, who was arrested and sentenced to death for attending pro-democracy protests as a child in Saudi Arabia, has been released from prison.
In February, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court. This was in line with Saudi Arabia’s 2018 Juvenile Law and unpublished Royal Decree of 2020 that theoretically make this the maximum punishment for childhood crimes.
Ali was arrested without a warrant in 2012, when he was 17 years old. His alleged ‘crimes’ included ‘organising protests on his Blackberry’ and ‘teaching protesters how to do first aid’. He was tortured until he ‘confessed’ to more serious offences, and convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of that confession.
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In 2015, then UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a public commitment to raise the cases of Ali, Abdullah al Zaher and Dawoud al Marhoun with the Saudi authorities. When Saudi Arabia killed 47 people in a mass execution the following January, the three boys were spared.
Abdullah and Dawoud have also been re-sentenced to ten years in prison but remain behind bars.
Despite repeated Saudi Arabian promises to have eliminated capital punishment for childhood crimes, Mustafa al-Darwish was executed in June for attending protests when he was 17 years old.
Abdullah al Howaiti was arrested when he was 14 years old and tortured into ‘confessing’ to robbing a jewellery store and shooting a policeman to make his escape. He was convicted and sentenced to death at the age of 17. Saudi Arabia’s Court of Appeal has since upheld his death sentence, which is now before the Supreme Court for final review. If it, too, upholds his sentence, he will face imminent execution, with no warning.
At least nine other child defendants remain at risk of being sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.
Reprieve Director Maya Foa said:
“Our first thoughts are with Ali and his family, who have waited so long for this day, for many years fearing he could be executed at any moment. We are overjoyed that Ali has been released, but he should never have been sent to prison at all, as his only ‘crime’ was attending protests to demand democratic rights.
“Ali’s release is a tangible sign of progress, but the fact is, the Kingdom still sentences people to death for childhood crimes. Like Ali, Abdullah al Howaiti was arrested when he was a child, tortured into making a false confession and convicted in a deeply unfair trial. While he remains on death row, at risk of execution, Saudi claims to have ended the death penalty for children are an empty PR exercise.”