19 December 2019 – Tomorrow marks the 25th birthday of Ali al-Nimr, who is on death row in Saudi Arabia. This is his eighth birthday in prison after being arrested in February 2012 for participating in a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the Government of Saudi Arabia to immediately release Ali al-Nimr and to drop all charges against him.
Ali al-Nimr was just 17 years old when he was arrested on 14 February 2012 in Qatif, a town in Saudi Arabia known to be a center for pro-democracy demonstrations. After arresting him, officers of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate interrogated him and tortured him. Ali signed a confession that one of his interrogators wrote for him, even though he did not understand what he was signing. Throughout his interrogation and prior to his trial Saudi authorities denied Ali the right to speak with a lawyer.
Authorities referred Ali’s case to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), the kingdom’s national security court system that is responsible for trying cases of terrorism. Ali had his first hearing in mid-December 2013, where he was charged with 12 offences, including treason and membership with a terrorist cell, among others. On 27 May 2014 after six trial sessions, the SCC in Jeddah sentenced him to death for “herabah” (banditry or unlawful warfare). His trial was conducted in secret, and authorities did not allow his family or lawyer to be present, nor did authorities tell them about the court proceedings. Multiple hearings were conducted in absentia.
His sentence was upheld on appeal in September 2015, without any prior notice given to Ali or his legal counsel. With his death sentence confirmed by the High Court, all legal and administrative steps have been taken to facilitate the execution, which would be carried out by crucifixion. Saudi Arabia has been known for carrying out death penalties without warning the victim’s family, as occurred on 23 April 2019, when the Government of Saudi Arabia executed 37 men for alleged terrorist crimes, without prior notice.
Ali has been the subject of multiple communications from United Nations (UN) Special Procedures offices, including in May 2015, September 2015, March 2016, August 2016, July 2017, and October 2018. His detention was also declared arbitrary and unlawful by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, on the grounds that his conviction was based on a law applied two years retroactively, in violation of his right to free expression, and the result of an unfair trial.
“It is an absolute tragedy that Ali al-Nimr has spent another birthday behind bars, on death row,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “He was arrested as a minor, tortured into confessing to crimes he did not commit. It is reprehensible that Saudi Arabia, a member of the Human Rights Council, and a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, would maintain the death penalty against someone for alleged crimes committed as a minor.”
ADHRB calls on Saudi Arabia to immediately release Ali, to annul his criminal record, and to provide him with appropriate compensation for the violation of his human rights and his arbitrary detention. We further call on the kingdom to respect and uphold its international treaty commitments, including to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to promulgate legislation ensuring that minors cannot face execution. We further call on the Saudi authorities to investigate Ali’s allegations of torture, with a view to holding the perpetrators accountable. Finally, we call on the Saudi authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, with a view towards its abolition.