Saudi Arabia commutes death sentences of 3 men jailed as minors

Three men sentenced to death for joining 2012 protests as teens have their sentences converted to 10 years in jail.

A man walks past a banner showing Saudi King Salman, right, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, outside a mall in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
In 2020, Saudi Arabia executed 27 people, an 85-percent drop on the previous year [File: Amr Nabil/AP]

Saudi Arabia has commuted the death sentences of three men who were arrested for taking part in anti-government protests as minors, in the latest attempt by the kingdom to improve its human rights record.

The country’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) said in a statement on Sunday that Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher had been “re-sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment” and that the time they had already served would be taken into account, setting their release date for 2022.

The move comes after the kingdom ended last April the use of the death penalty on people who were legal minors at the time of the crime, with exception of cases involving the counter-terror law.

The three young Saudis, all belonging to the minority Shia community, were younger than 18 when they were arrested on “terrorism”-related charges during a pro-democracy protest in 2012.

“Excellent news for Ali al Nimr, sentenced to death in KSA for attending a pro-democracy protest when he was just 17,” Maya Foa, director of Britain-based campaign group Reprieve, said on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia, which holds one of the highest capital punishment rates in the world, last year saw “drastic” reduction in the number of executions. According to the HRC, 27 people were executed in 2020, an 85-percent drop on the previous year.

The HRC also said last April that Saudi Arabia was abolishing court-ordered floggings.

The absolute monarchy has come under increasing scrutiny for its human rights record, especially following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, its de facto ruler, Saudi Arabia has detained activists, religious leaders and royal family members in a sweeping crackdown on dissent over the last three years.

Joe Biden criticised Saudi Arabia over its human rights record before being elected the US president last November.

Source: Al Jazeera