24 March 2018 – Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher turns 22 today – his 7th birthday spent in prison, and his fourth birthday spent on death row after he was arrested in 2012 because of his participation in a peaceful protest. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) call on the government of Saudi Arabia to immediately release Abdullah, drop all charges against him, and institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view towards abolition.
Abdullah al-Zaher was only 15 years old when he was arrested by Saudi police on 3 March 2012 for his participation in a peaceful protest. Saudi authorities did not present a warrant. During his arrest, Saudi police shot at Abdullah before beating him in the street with their weapons. He was eventually taken to the General Directorate of Investigation in Dammam, where Saudi authorities held him incommunicado and solitary detention for three months. During his detention, Saudi police tortured Abdullah by beating him all over his body with an iron wire. They then forced him to sign a confession without allowing him to read it.
Authorities held Abdullah in pre-trial detention for nearly two years during which time authorities severely restricted his access to his lawyer. He was eventually brought before a judge prior to his trial, but only so that the court could provide him with the list of charges against him. Abdullah’s lawyer was not present at the time. Throughout Abdullah’s trial, his lawyer was unable to access the evidence against him. On 21 October 2014, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Abdullah to death. He was 18 at the time of his sentencing, and is currently at risk of being executed at any time, although Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 37 of which calls on State Parties to ensure that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and also that no child shall be sentenced to capital punishment.
“Abdullah al-Zaher was just a child when he was arrested and tortured into confessing to crimes he did not commit. Saudi Arabia is ignoring its obligations under the CRC to refrain from using torture or capital punishment against children – solely to punish a minor for reportedly participating in a peaceful protest,” says Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “This birthday marks yet another year Abdullah has been unlawfully detained and at risk of imminent execution. The international community must step up and hold Saudi Arabia accountable to its international treaty commitments and call for Abdullah al-Zaher’s immediate release.”
Abdullah must not be allowed to spend another year in prison awaiting an unjust death sentence. ADHRB and ESOHR call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release him and to drop all charges against him, we further call on Saudi Arabia to respect and uphold its international obligations, including those outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to institute a moratorium on capital punishment with a view towards its abolition.