Yesterday, Amnesty International, Reprieve, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, and other major human rights groups began to publicize the horrifying fear that the executions of Dawood al-Marhoon, Abed allahhassan al-Zaher, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr will likely take place today, March 12. The source is a report in Saudi Arabian media which does not name the three, who were teenagers when they were arrested at protests and were convicted of charges up to and including “terrorism,” but which states that mass executions of “terrorists” are impending in the Kingdom.
Okaz, a newspaper in Saudi Arabia is quoted: “The four terrorists awaiting the implementation of the death sentences complement the first group of 47.” That group of 47 included Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr’s uncle who was a Shiite cleric who encouraged peaceful protest, and 46 others who were beheaded on January 2, as reported here. This is sufficiently similar to how Saudi Arabian authorities published information last autumn in advance of the mass executions in January to lead to human rights organizations sounding their alarms as loudly as possible.
What is known is that as of right now, just before noon EST on March 12, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a 20-year-old Saudi sentenced to death by beheading, has not been beheaded. His two co-prisoners, also arrested when they were underage, have not been beheaded. Their bodies have not been crucified and then displayed, which is the second horrifying part of this “anti-terrorism” sentence.
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Some background, especially concerning my emphasis on the ages of the prisoners at the time of their arrests, 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 he 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 last 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 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 however seen the details of the torture methods used against Dawood al-Marhoon, 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 as well as a punctured eardrum. This all happened in 2012 and 2013, for 20 months before his trial even started. He was underage.
Abed al-Zaher was 17 at the time his death sentence was handed down, which means that his arrest, detention, and probable terrible treatment in prison to extract a false confession all took place while he was underage.
James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, is quoted in yesterday’s press release from Amnesty as saying, “If these executions go ahead, Saudi Arabia will demonstrate its utter disdain for international law, which prohibits executions of people for crimes committed under the age of 18. Condemning these young men to death despite grave flaws in their trials and credible allegations that their ‘confessions’ were extracted under torture, would be a sickening example of the authorities’ disregard for human life.”
Information about prisoners in Saudi Arabia—including 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 2015. 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 several months and his uncle was beheaded at the start of the year. Saudi Arabia has already executed half of the prisoners it executed in all of 2015, which was an extraordinarily bloodthirsty year in its judicial history.
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, continues to do incredible work getting Ali’s story heard in the Western world, including this official letter sent yesterday to Prime Minister David Cameron:
— Margaret Ferrier MP (@MargaretFerrier) March 11, 2016
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.
MintPress News, an independent news source based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, interviewed Ali’s father, Mohammed al-Nimr, last year. (To add captions, click on “CC” in the video.)
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