End The Death Penalty Press release

UN experts call on Saudi Arabia to annul death sentence of child defendant.

A group of UN Legal experts have called on Saudi Arabia to annul Abdullah al-Howaiti’s second death sentence because he did not receive a fair trial, as credible reports that he was tortured into making a false confession when he was 14 years old were not investigated.

The Special Rapporteurs wrote that “it is inherently cruel to execute children,” and called on Saudi Arabia to “abolish the imposition of the death penalty for juveniles for all crimes, without exception.”

The experts drew particular attention to the impact on Abdullah’s mental health when he was sentenced to death for a second time on March 2, 2022. His first conviction was overturned by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court due to a lack of admissible evidence.

Citing reports that Abdullah had suffered a mental health crisis, gone on hunger strike, collapsed in prison and been taken to a psychiatric ward, the experts observed that “the anxiety created by the threat of death and the other circumstances surrounding an execution, inflicts great psychological pressure and trauma on persons sentenced to death.”

Abdullah’s appeal against his second death sentence is currently being heard by Saudi Arabia’s Court of Appeal. There have been two hearings in quick succession, scheduled at such short notice that international observers have been unable to attend. A verdict is expected soon.

The experts warned that “the execution of the death sentence, against Mr. al-Howaiti, which is resulting from an apparent lack of due process of law and unfair trial procedures could amount to an arbitrary and thus unlawful execution prohibited under international law.”

Other key passages from the UN letter:

  • “We are deeply concerned by the continuing imposition and execution of the death penalty against persons who were below 18 years of age at the time of committing the crime, which amounts to a serious violation of international human rights law.”
  • “Given Mr. al-Howaiti’s age at the time of the crime with which he was charged, the number of years he has spent in prison to date, while he may be innocent, and his reportedly deteriorating health, we recommend that he be released on bail immediately.”
  • “Mr. al-Howaiti has been arbitrarily detained and subjected to incommunicado detention and to acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment with a view to force him to accept responsibility for the crimes imputed on him.”
  • “The Court [that sentenced Mr Howaiti to death for a second time] did not initiate investigations into allegations of torture and coerced confessions, or verify the veracity of Mr. al-Howaiti’s confession of guilt.”
  • “These allegations warrant a close attention to the case to avoid that an innocent person is wrongly sentenced and executed, and a thorough review of the entire case and evidence since arrest. For these reasons, we are concerned that the execution of the death penalty against Mr. al-Howaiti could amount to an arbitrary execution.”
  • “We also respectfully call on your Excellency’s Government to adopt without delay the necessary legislative measures to abolish the imposition of the death penalty for children for all crimes.”

The full communication can be read here.

Jeed Basyouni, who leads Reprieve’s Middle East and North Africa work, commented:

“From the moment police raided the Howaiti family home and dragged out 14 year old Abdullah, the Saudi justice system has been on autopilot, punishing him for a crime he cannot have committed. Every court knew how young he was. Every court heard he had an alibi. Every court was told he was tortured. But they sent him to death row and kept him in a cell, when he should have been playing football with his friends. 

Abdullah will never get back the teenage years he spent fearing for his life, but it’s not too late for the Saudi courts to do the right thing. The world is watching.”