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Saudi Arabia: Release Abdullah al-Howaiti, revoke death sentence

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, known in English as The Prophet's Mosque, in the city of Medina in the Al Madinah Province of Saudi Arabia.
Unsplash/Yasmine Arfaoui
Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, known in English as The Prophet's Mosque, in the city of Medina in the Al Madinah Province of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: Release Abdullah al-Howaiti, revoke death sentence

Human Rights

UN-appointed independent human rights experts called on Tuesday for Saudi Arabia to immediately release Abdullah al-Howaiti and quash the death sentence against him for crimes he allegedly committed as a child. 

In May 2017, the then 14-year-old was arrested on charges of robbery and murder. Despite having an alibi, and based on a confession extracted under torture and other ill-treatment, he was convicted, and recently sentenced to death for a second time after his original conviction was overturned by the Saudi Supreme Court last year.

“We are alarmed by the confirmation of the death sentence against Mr. Al-Howaiti, on 2 March 2022, without initiating any investigation into the allegations of torture or determining the veracity of the coerced confession of guilt,” the experts said.

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If the Court of Appeal confirms the conviction, Mr. Al-Howaiti will be at an imminent risk of execution.

Trial errors

From failing to consider an alibi, to dismissing allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and admitting torture-tainted confessions as incriminating evidence without properly investigating, the experts were dismayed by the conviction after a trial marred with such due process irregularities. 

“We would like to remind the Saudi authorities of their obligation to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there are reasonable grounds to believe that torture has been committed, and to exclude any evidence obtained through torture and coercion from judicial proceedings,” the experts said.

Abolish capital punishment


The experts also urged the Saudi Government/authorities to adopt measures towards abolishing the death penalty for children, including in relation to offenses punished under qisas and hudad.

Qisas is an Islamic term interpreted to mean “eye for an eye.” It is used as a category of retributive justice for murder in Saudi Arabia and allows victims’ families to demand the death sentence, compensation or offer a pardon.

Hudud refers to Islamic penal law or Quranic punishments for offences including theft, brigandage, adultery and apostasy.

The death penalty on children is absolutely prohibited under international law without exception or derogation under any circumstances, according to the UN experts.

We urge the Saudi Government to adopt without delay the necessary legislative measures to abolish the imposition of the death penalty for children for all crimes, including in relation to offences punished under qisas and hudud,” the experts said.

Deprivation of life

The UN experts have previously expressed their concerns regarding this case to the Government of Saudi Arabia.

Last November, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion upholding that the detention of Al-Howaiti was arbitrary.

They reiterated their request to the authorities to take immediate measures to protect the moral and physical integrity of Mr. Al-Howaiti, considering his age and vulnerability. 

“Prolonged incommunicado detention can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment,” underscored the UN experts said.

The death penalty against juvenile offenders in Saudi Arabia is the arbitrary deprivation of life, the UN experts said.

More on experts

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

The experts in this case included the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Chair-Rapporteur Miriam Estrada-Castillo,Vice-Chair Mumba Malila and members Elina Steinerte, Matthew Gillett, and Priya Gopalan along with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Morris Tidball-Binz.