New Delhi: A Saudi teenager, who has been held for more than four years without charge, is now facing a death sentence for acts he committed when he was as young as ten, including taking part in Shia-led protests, The Guardian reported.
Murtaja Qureiris, who is now 18, is a member of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. He was detained at the age of 13 and has been in jail since 2014. According to rights group Amnesty International, he is on trial for charges that include “participating in anti-government protests, attending the funeral of his brother Ali Qureiris who was killed in a protest in 2011, joining a ‘terrorist organization,’ throwing Molotov cocktails at a police station and firing at security forces”. He is currently awaiting his next trial session.
The rights groups said Qureiris was held in solitary confinement for a month and subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation. His interrogators promised to release him if he confessed to the charges against him.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, one of the rights groups tracking the case, told the New York Times that in seeking a death penalty for the teen, “the Saudi regime is advertising its impunity to the world.”
The “youngest political prisoner,” as per European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, was moved to al-Mabaheth in 2017 – an adult prison – even though he was only 16. He was also denied access to a lawyer throughout until his first court session in an anti-terror court in 2018. This ‘Specialized Criminal Court’ (SCC) has reportedly increasingly been used for cases involving human rights activists. Saudi Arabia has neither commented nor made the details of the case public.
Amnesty International has documented that “a number of cases of Shi’a activists tried before the SCC have faced grossly unfair trials with defendants convicted and, in many cases, sentenced to death on vague charges that criminalise peaceful opposition and on the basis of “confessions” extracted through torture or other coercive means.”
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research director, told the New York Times that it was “appalling” that Saudi authorities were pursuing the death penalty for charges that include taking part in protests while still a child.
The government under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has intensified the crackdown on Saudi Shias. According to the Saudi state-run news agency, the country carried out a mass execution of 37 men (33 of whom were Shia) for “their adoption of extremist, terrorist ideology and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord.” Amnesty deemed the trial of some of those executed “grossly unfair.”
This was the largest mass execution since 2016, when the country put 47 men to death – including Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr, a Shia cleric who had criticised the country’s treatment of its Shiite minority.
Tensions with Shia-led Iran have also intensified and the Saudi embassy in Tehran remains shut.
Maalouf was further quoted as saying: “The Saudi Arabian authorities have a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters -including children- from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority,”
Details of this case emerged after CNN reported that the Saudi prosecutors had sought capital punishment for him in 2018, which was later confirmed by Amnesty.