Ministers urged to correct claims over Saudi juveniles executions

Saudi Arabia (Reprieve) – International human rights organization Reprieve is urging the UK Government to correct inaccurate statements it has made about three juveniles facing beheading in Saudi Arabia.

Ali al Nimr, Dawoud al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher were aged 17, 17 and 15 (respectively) when they were sentenced to death for alleged involvement in protests calling for reform in the Kingdom.

However, the UK Government has wrongly maintained that “under Saudi Law they are considered to have been adult at the time.”

This assertion – made most recently in a UK human rights assessment of Saudi Arabia, updated on 21 July – is directly at odds with the Saudi Government’s own public claims that their own law defines a child as any person under the age of 18.  In their most recent report to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Saudi Government said that:

“Looking at the statutes adopted in Saudi Arabia, it is clear that the definition of the child in them is consistent with the requirements of article 1 of the Convention. The Child Protection Act defines the child as ‘any person under the age of eighteen’, as does the Act to combat crimes of trafficking in persons. Furthermore, the juvenile is defined in the criminal law regulations on arrest and the regulations on juvenile detention centres as any person who has not reached the age of eighteen.”

While Saudi law continues to allow some limited scope for a judge to determine that someone under 18 can be treated as an adult – in contradiction to Saudi Arabia’s international obligations – no such determination was in fact made in any of Ali’s, Dawoud’s or Abdullah’s cases.   In addition, all three were detained following their arrest in juvenile detention centres, a clear indication that the authorities considered them to be children.

Reprieve has written to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on several occasions to welcome the attention they have paid to the case, but ask that they correct this inaccurate claim, which the charity believes runs the risk of helping to legitimise the Saudis authorities’ use of the death penalty against children.

Reprieve has previously expressed concern over former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s claim that the 47 people executed in a single day in January this year “were terrorists” – despite at least four of them having been convicted of offences relating to protests calling for reform in the country.

However, the FCO has so far refused to correct either of these claims.  Reprieve has written to new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson asking that he maintains the FCO’s focus on the cases of the Saudi juveniles, but that he moves further and asks the Saudi Government to commute their death sentences – something which the FCO has not done so far. It is unclear whether Mr Johnson raised the juveniles’ cases during a recent meeting with his Saudi counterparts.

Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at international human rights organization Reprieve said:

“The British Government should not be accepting the Saudis’ excuses for their appalling plans to behead people sentenced to death as children. The government must stop hiding behind the fiction that Abdullah, Ali and Dawoud are considered adults under Saudi law.  The reality is that the Saudis are breaking both their own laws and international law in their plans to execute these three.


“The attention the Foreign Office has paid to these cases so far is welcome.  However, they must ensure they are not giving support to Saudi Government propaganda, as they have done all too often before.  Boris Johnson needs to set the record straight, and call on the Saudi authorities to immediately commute the death sentences handed down to these three juveniles.”


This report prepared by Reprieve.