19 September 2017 – On 11 September, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, leaving him at imminent risk of being executed. With all of his appeals exhausted, al-Hawaj faces execution as soon as King Salman ratifies his sentence, which could happen at any time. Al-Hawaj is now the seventh man on the kingdom’s death row for crimes allegedly committed as a minor. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) condemns Saudi Arabia’s continued use of the death penalty, especially against minors, and calls on the government to commute these sentences.
Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was arrested in January 2014 as he was walking home from work by security officials wearing civilian clothing. The men were linked to the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Investigation, the agency tasked with overseeing Saudi Arabia’s domestic intelligence service – the mabahith. After his arrest, authorities disappeared him for five months, keeping him in solitary confinement and torturing him until he confessed to a number of terror-related crimes. On 27 July, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced al-Hawaj to death on charges dating to when he was 16 years old.
With the Supreme Court confirming his sentence, al-Hawaj becomes the seventh individual awaiting imminent execution for crimes allegedly committed while a minor. The others include longstanding prisoners Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, who have been on death row since 2014. In addition, three other young men were given the death penalty on 10 August: Mujtaba al-Suwaiket, Abdullah al-Sareeh, and Salman al-Quraish. All of them were tortured, and almost all of them were sentenced to death because of their participation in peaceful protests.
“Saudi Arabia’s upholding of Abdulkareem al-Hawaj’s sentence is a travesty. Not only are the terror-related charges against him spurious and based on a confession he gave under duress from torture, but they are related to his participation in a peaceful protest. Moreover, he was under the age of 18 at the time of his alleged crime. Because of this, the Saudi government must immediately drop his sentence and release him,” states Husain Abdulla, ADHRB Executive Director.
Saudi Arabia acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, pledging to protect children’s right to free and peaceful assembly and expression and to ensure that “capital punishment shall not be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.” By sentencing Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, Saudi Arabia is violating its obligations under international law. ADHRB condemns Saudi Arabia’s application of the death penalty, especially against minors, and calls on Saudi Arabia to not only uphold its commitments to international law, but to immediately drop all charges against Abdulkareem al-Hawaj and to release him.