Case Update: Dawood al-Marhoon — Saudi Death Row Minor

In October, five Saudi prison officers physically assaulted and beat Dawood al-Marhoon, the 21-year-old Saudi inmate arbitrarily detained on death row, for filing a complaint over his mistreatment in prison. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) condemns this reprisal by Saudi authorities against Dawood. ADHRB calls on the Saudi government to immediately release Dawood al-Marhoon, drop all charges against him, and seriously investigate allegations of torture and abuse.

On 9 October 2016, Dawood filed a complaint with prison authorities after a prison officer kicked and insulted him. Following the complaint, other officers entered Dawood’s cell and threatened, “either we take you to solitary confinement, or you retract your complaint.” Dawood told them, “neither will I go to solitary, nor will I back down on the complaint, as this complaint is my right.” Five officers subsequently took Dawood out of his cell and into the hallway where they attacked Dawood by slapping, hitting, and kicking him. Dawood did not withdraw his complaint.

Dawood al-Marhoon was just 17-years-old when Saudi authorities arrested him on 22 May 2012 for allegedly participating in anti-government protests. While in detention, authorities held him incommunicado for nearly two weeks. Officials tortured him and forced him to sign a false confession. On 21 October 2014, the Specialized Criminal Court, the kingdom’s counter-terror court, sentenced him to death by beheading.

“My son was unfairly sentenced to prison. He is still young and unaware of the arbitrary sentence he was subjected to. The prison officers are still violating his rights in his cell and whenever I pay him a visit,” stated Dawood’s mother, Amena al-Safar. “The statements of other detainees and the cameras prove his claims of abuse are correct, but they refused to proceed with the complaint and hold the perpetrators accountable. They said that my son made false and defamatory statements about him, and this is incorrect. And this is not the first time that my son is exposed to abuses.”

Dawood believes that his complaint was not raised with the prison senior management, because there has been no investigation into the incident and none of the officers involved in the assault have been reprimanded or prosecuted.

“Acts of torture are prohibited under international law, abhorrent in nature, and diminish human dignity, but despite this, we have documented many Saudi torture cases, and found torture to be deeply rooted within Saudi interrogation and detention regimes,” stated Ali Adubisi, Executive Director of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR). “Authorities sentenced Dawood to death based on a confession extracted under torture and now to be subjected to further abuse only illustrates that prisoners in Saudi Arabia are neither afforded dignity, nor effective protective safeguards from torture.”

With at least 153 death sentences carried out this year, Saudi Arabia is ominously approaching last year’s record high of 158 executions, according to figures collated by human rights organization Reprieve. Dawood is one of several death row prisoners in Saudi Arabia who were arrested as minors, including Ali al-Nimr (the nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, executed in January 2016), and Abdullah al-Zaher. Abdullah was 15-years-old and Ali was 17-years-old when security forces arrested them for participating in demonstrations. In detention, Saudi officials tortured Ali and Abdullah and forced them to sign false confessions. The Saudi courts then used the confessions to convict and sentence them to death.

“Cases like Dawood’s underscore Saudi Arabia’s continuous failure to meet their stated obligations to refrain from torture, provide effective safeguards against torture, investigate allegations of torture, and prosecute perpetrators,” states Husain Abdulla, executive director of ADHRB. “Saudi Arabia has signed on to several international human rights treaties and is a party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The country must abide by its agreements and reject all forms of abuse.”