What is known is that as of today, October 12, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a 20-year-old Saudi sentenced to death by beheading, has not been beheaded. His body has not been crucified and then displayed, which is the second horrifying part of his sentence. Because corporal and capital sentences in Saudi Arabia are usually implemented on Fridays—after public prayers—dread accompanies the approach of each Friday for friends and family of those sentenced, and then with the confirmation from Ali’s family that his odious sentence was not carried out, a tense non-relief follows. But he is not the only under-age prisoner in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to death by beheading.
The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) has been publicizing three stories: Ali al-Nimr’s and those of Dawood Hussain Almarhoon and Abedallah al-Zaher. All three were arrested before they were 18 years of age, all three have been held in prison since the arrests (each young man was arrested in 2012), and all three have been almost certainly tortured.
As of Saturday, Ali and the other teenagers were moved to the Saudi capital. No advance notice was given to their families, who learned about it after the fact. What this means or portends is not clear.
Ali’s father is quoted in tonight’s Guardian online as saying, “I’m very worried now because they’ve moved my son to a prison in Riyadh and he is in solitary confinement. I expect that this can only mean bad news and I fear he could be executed at any moment. Dawoud al-Marhoon also faces the same fate as my son, but so do six others. So in total there are eight young men who have been sentenced to death. My son is completely innocent.”
Some background follows.
The United Nations re-ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and it was brought into force the following year. Saudi Arabia became a signatory in 1996. Every person who is not yet 18 is considered a child in this treaty, and the agreement declares that, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection.” Each of the three was arrested before the age of 18; they were children.
Article 37 is of particular interest, as it concerns imprisonment and the legal systems of countries that have signed the convention. Saudi Arabia signed the convention, as stated above. The second section, “(b)” states, “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Each of the three arrested has been in prison since 2012.
Section “(d)” reads, “Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.” None of the three was informed of the charges against him.
Section (a) is clear, as well: “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”
Ali al-Nimr was tortured and signed a confession that his family declares is “false.” The charges that were leveled against him are so impossibly comic that one thinks the Saudi authorities were having a laugh at everyone fighting for human rights and justice: he was charged with “explaining how to give first aid to protesters,” using his cell phone to invite others to join him at a protest, single-handedly stealing every weapon and uniform in a police unit barracks, and then attacking security forces. Oh, and armed robbery. He is a skinny young man. He did not do these things, and he could have only signed a confession under duress.
He was never shown the charges against him, was convicted, and then an appeal was heard this year but he was not informed that an appeal was being heard so no defense was mustered, which of course was officially interpreted as another confession so the verdict was upheld. His sentence, as stated above, is to be death by beheading and a crucifixion to follow.
I have not seen details, if they have been reported, of the torture methods used against Ali to extract a confession. He was held in solitary confinement for many months. I have seen the details of the torture methods used against Dawood Hussain Almarhoon, however. Dawood was 17 when he was shot in the leg by police and arrested at a protest in 2012, but he was released because he promised to spy on his fellows. He did not, so he was re-arrested eight days later, in an eye hospital, because he had also suffered an injury to his eye. At first, he was held in a prison hospital, but he was removed before treatment ended and put into solitary confinement. For 18 hours a day, he was beaten, forced to lie on his stomach while guards walked on him, and his bullet wound in his leg was repeatedly hit.
After sixteen months of this treatment, with no trial, he was transferred to another prison and then the torture really began in earnest: for a month, he was electrocuted, hanged upside-down, and then tied to a chair and beaten. All of this was under the auspices of “interrogation.”
(Does my nation have a squeaky-clean prison system? No, we have not. We have an unjust justice system. I have written about this before and I will again.)
Dawood suffered broken ribs that were not re-set and a punctured eardrum. This all happened in 2012 and 2013, for 20 months before his trial even started. He was underage.
Abedallah al-Zaher was 17 at the time his death sentence was handed down, which means that his arrest, detention, and probable terrible treatment all took place while he was underage.
Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, is quoted in an article in today’s Middle East Eye as saying, “Saudi Arabia has been on an execution spree in 2015, but beheading a child offender whose trial was unfair would be an appalling new low. Unfair trials of Shia citizens amount to no more than a legal veneer for state repression of their demands to end long-term discrimination. The authorities should not compound their repression by killing a child offender.”
Information about these prisoners—and Raif Badawi—is scarce. Saudi officials do not release statements about these cases, except to complain that outsiders are attempting to interfere with their own internal business when international protests grow in volume.
What is known is that Raif Badawi, for one, has not been whipped since that unbelievable day that he was whipped in January. It was said at the time that he had not recovered from the wounds received that day. Nothing further has been said publicly.
What is known is that Ali Mohammad al-Nimr has not yet been beheaded, even though his sentence and his re-conviction after “appeal” have both been known publicly for weeks.
Protests in both cases have grown loud and louder. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Prime Minister David Cameron have spoken about Ali’s case, at least in speeches to their respective party conventions. Margaret Ferrier, a Member of Parliament from Scotland, did incredible work getting Ali’s story heard in the Western world.
And #OpNimr, a campaign organized by members of the loose collective of hactivists, Anonymous, continues to report case after case of successfully taking down websites inside Saudi Arabia and leaks of email passwords on behalf of Ali and his uncle, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who faces beheading for inciting protest. There are several more names they need to add to their campaign: Dawood Hussain Almarhoon, Abedallah al-Zaher, Ali Saeed Al-rebeh, Mohammed Faisal al-shyookh, and Mohammad Al-somwaeal.
This is the third video from OpNimr:
It is possible that Saudi Arabia is feeling some pressure as a result of these campaigns. But it is also possible that it is feeling quite powerful, as it recently took the helm of a panel on the UN Human Rights Commission, a position it then used last week to shut down an independent investigation into human rights violations and war crimes in Yemen, violations Saudi Arabia was behind. If its regime is feeling powerful and free to violate human rights, including those of children it has arrested and detained for years, beheadings may well follow.
I fear that in all of these cases—the Saudi youths, Raif Badawi, Waleed Albukhair, other human rights activists sitting in prison—Saudi Arabia is playing a waiting game with the world. Surely, that nation’s leadership seems to be thinking, there will be some other cause in some other country that we will move on to. Surely, the corrupt theocracy seems to be thinking, we will lose interest in such small cases. And then they can mete out the punishments.
There are many ways you can join the campaigns to raise the volume on these human rights stories; start with Amnesty International and ESOHR. A White House petition has been started, here: “WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO: negotiate for the release of Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr.”
MintPress News, an independent news source based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, interviewed Ali’s father, Mohammed al-Nimr, and the family’s legal adviser and advocate in Washington DC, Esha Krishnaswamy. Mr. Krishnaswamy started the White House petition. (To add captions, click on “CC” in the video.)
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