U.N. human rights experts called on Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to free three young Shi’ite Muslims whose death sentences for taking part in protests as minors have been commuted, citing allegations of torture and unfair trials.
The kingdom’s human rights record has come under growing U.N. and Western scrutiny. The United States last week imposed sanctions on some Saudis for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but spared crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia’s state-backed Human Rights Commission said on Feb. 7 that three young Shi’ite Muslims sentenced to death when they were minors had had the penalty reduced to 10 years in prison.
Ali Al-Nimr, the nephew of prominent Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr whose 2016 execution sparked demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and Iran, was 17 when he was detained in Feb. 2012 for taking part in protests in the country’s Eastern Province. He was part of a trio of juvenile offenders who faced beheading.
“We reiterate our call to the authorities to release Mr. Ali al-Nimr, Mr. Dawood al-Marhoon and Mr. Abdullah al-Zaher or, at the very least, to retry them in accordance with international law and standards, without delay,” the U.N. rights experts said in a statement calling for charges to be dropped.
The experts, who include Agnes Callamard, the U.N. investigator on summary killings, added: “We continue to receive allegations of torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions, and in relation to the imposition of the death penalty for crimes which do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’, required under international law.”
They urged Saudi authorities to confirm a moratorium on executions for drug offences, announced in January “but not yet codified”.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, in rare public comments on Saudi Arabia, said last Friday that people were unlawfully held there and urged Riyadh to uphold freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.