Saudi Arabia will no longer impose the death sentence on individuals who committed crimes while still minors, the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) has said in a statement citing a royal decree by King Salman.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s biggest executioners after Iran and China, Amnesty International said in its latest annual report earlier this month.
“The decree means that any individuals who received a death sentence for crimes committed while he or she is a minor can no longer face execution. Instead, the individual will receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility,” HRC President Awwad Alawwad said in the statement on Sunday.
“This is an important day for Saudi Arabia,” Alawwad said. “The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code, and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms across all sectors of our country.”
It was not immediately clear when the decree would take effect.
In its report, Amnesty said Saudi Arabia executed 184 people in 2019, including at least one person charged with a crime committed as a minor.
Sunday’s announcement came just two days after the kingdom, in effect, abolished flogging as punishment, in a decision made by the General Commission for the Supreme Court.
The punishment will instead be replaced by prison time or fines.
Capital punishment for crimes committed by people under the age of 18 runs contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.
In April 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 men convicted of “terrorism” charges. The UN human rights chief said at the time that most of them were Shia Muslims who may not have had fair trials and at least three were minors when sentenced.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has grown since King Salman named his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017.
MBS has launched a series of social and economic reforms aimed at modernising the conservative kingdom, which has no codified system of law to go with the texts making up Islamic law.