The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia has thrown out Abdullah al-Howaiti’s conviction. Abdullah, who was arrested when he was 14 years old and sentenced to death three years later, is no longer at imminent risk of execution.
His mother posted the news on Twitter, stating: “By the grace of Allah and with the efforts of the lawyer Abdulaziz al-Shamri, the Supreme Court overturned the judgement on behalf of my youngest son, Abdullah al-Howaiti. Thank you everyone who stood with me and supported me.”
Under Saudi law, there must now be a retrial in the case. Reprieve is calling for the public prosecutor to withdraw its request for the death penalty in the case, and for Abdullah’s torture-tainted ‘confession’ to be ruled inadmissible as evidence.
Abdullah was seized from his family home in Tabouk by police officers in May 2017, along with his brother, and accused of shooting a policeman during the robbery of a jewellery store.
They were held incommunicado for four months, without access to a lawyer, and interrogated and tortured by police. Abdullah was whipped with electrical wire, beaten so badly he couldn’t walk for days, and forced to participate in abuse of his brother. To make the pain stop he signed a false ‘confession’ to the crimes.
On 30 October 2019, the Criminal Court in Tabouk sentenced Abdullah to death. He was 17 years old. His ‘confession’ and the ‘confessions’ of his co-defendants, also obtained using torture, were the prime pieces of evidence against him.
Abdullah told a judge that he had been tortured into confessing to the crime. His date of birth appears on the judgement, meaning that the judges knew he was only 14 at the time of the alleged offence. They sentenced him to death regardless.
Abdullah also had an alibi, supported by the statements of his friends, his mother, and CCTV footage recorded in a court document: he was at the seafront playing football when the crime took place.
In January 2021, the Court of Appeal in Tabouk rejected Abdullah’s appeal and upheld the death sentence.
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said:
“This is an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to show it is serious about abolishing the death penalty for childhood crimes. That this case even reached the Supreme Court shows how urgently real reform is needed: Abdullah was 14 years old at the time of the alleged offence and should never have been facing a death sentence. “Saudi authorities have claimed, many times, that they are eliminating capital punishment for juvenile offences. If those statements are to be trusted, the death penalty should be off the table in this case.”
Saudi legal specialist Taha al-Hajji, of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, said:
“We remain concerned for Abdullah Al-Howaiti’s life, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling. Our experience with the judiciary in Saudi Arabia shows that this step is not sufficient to protect his life. The law still allows judges to issue sentences of Qisas and Haraba against minors, which means that the Public Prosecution may request the death penalty again because the case file is still open. Abdullah must now be granted a fair trial, and prosecutors must withdraw their demand for the death penalty. Other minors are still at risk of execution. We are afraid of flaws in the law, and manipulation of the ages of the prisoners to justify killing them, as happened in the case of Mustafa Al-Darwish.”
For further information or to arrange an interview with a Reprieve spokesperson please contact [email protected] or text +44 7464 152554.