On 27 May 2014, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr to death by beheading and crucifixion. On 17 August 2014, the Supreme Court upheld his verdict. Ali’s execution is imminent. With no remaining avenues for legal appeal, the only thing that prevents the sentence from being carried out is King Salman’s final approval.
On 12 February 2012, Saudi security forces arrested 17-year-old Ali as he left his school in the Eastern Province town of Qatif. Police officers ran into him with their car while he was riding his bicycle. He suffered several broken bones and needed to be hospitalized. According to his father, Mohammed al-Nimr, the officers detained him without a warrant. As the nephew of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, Ali’s mother, Nassra al-Ahmed speculated that the Saudi government used Ali’s arrest and detention “as a card against his uncle.” Ali’s father suggested that, “there was political need for revenge against his uncle, and [the authorities could] pressure [Sheikh Nimr] through [Ali], since [Sheikh Nimr] did not cooperate during investigations.” Because of these allegations, some believe Saudi government prosecutors filed serious charges against Ali. The charges include “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “participating in demonstrations,” using his cell phone to incite demonstrations, sheltering fugitives, and attacking police with Molotov cocktails.
When Ali’s mother visited him in prison in August 2012, half-a-year after his arrest, she suspected authorities had tortured him saying, “He did not have his shape, or his voice, because had been tortured. He didn’t need to tell me what had happened because his face, hands, feet and body spoke on his behalf.” Under torture, authorities extracted a coerced confession from Ali for the charges against him.
Authorities held Ali in pretrial detention for two years and did not allow him to contact his lawyer. When the government convened his trial in the Specialized Criminal Court on 27 May 2014, authorities did not allow him to access the evidence against him. They did not inform Ali of all the specific charges against him until half-way through the trial proceedings. The only evidence the government brought against Ali was the coerced confession they extracted from him using torture. The judges sentenced Ali to death on the basis of his coerced confession, and three months later, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. At the time of his trial and conviction, Ali was 19-years-old.
Due to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ali has no remaining legal avenues for appeal. An order from King Salman is the final step before Saudi authorities carry out Ali’s execution. Ali’s execution remains imminent and his death sentence could be carried out at any time.
The circumstances surrounding his case do not meet standards of international law. Ali, now 21-years-old, faces execution for alleged crimes he committed when he was 17-years-old after security forces arrested him off the street without a warrant. The government’s actions thereby violate the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia acceded to in 1996. The Saudi government also violated the Convention Against Torture when authorities tortured Ali in prison and forced him to sign a confession, which it then used against him as the only evidence for his alleged crimes in court. Given the illegal circumstances of his arrest, detention, and trial, the Government of Saudi Arabia should immediately release Ali and drop all charges against him.
Tyler Pry is the Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr Advocacy Fellow at ADHRB