PM must call for Saudi juveniles’ release during visit

April 3, 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to use a trip to Saudi Arabia to press for the release of three juveniles who face beheading for allegedly attending protests.

Mrs May is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for talks. Her visit takes place amid fears for three prisoners who were arrested as children in 2012 and sentenced to death on charges relating to protests. Abdullah al-Zaher, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Ali al-Nimr were sentenced to beheading and, in Ali’s case, ‘crucifixion’ despite their being 15, 17 and 17 respectively at the time of their arrest.

All three juveniles were tortured into forced ‘confessions’, and convicted in secretive trials. They remain imprisoned, and could be executed at any time without notice being given to their families.

International human rights organisation Reprieve has previously written to the Prime Minister about the cases, and asked her to call on the Saudi authorities to release the three and commute their sentences. In a Parliamentary answer last week, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said that the UK “remains concerned about [the] cases” and that UK officials last raised concerns with the Gulf Kingdom in January of this year. However, the UK appears not to have requested the release of the three young men.

The Prime Minister is understood not to have directly raised the cases with the Saudi authorities on her last visit to the Gulf. On that visit, she promised greater security assistance to governments in the region, saying the UK aimed to be the Gulf’s “partner of choice.”

Reprieve has previously raised concerns that UK funding and training for Saudi security bodies could be contributing to human rights abuses in the Kingdom, including the death penalty. Reprieve has discovered that British police have trained their Saudi counterparts in investigation techniques that could lead to the arrest, torture and sentencing to death of protesters; and that these projects have been undertaken without proper safeguards.

Last year, several juveniles were among 47 people executed en masse in the Kingdom. At least one – Ali al Ribh – was convicted on charges relating to protests, as were Abdullah, Dawood and Ali.

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch – a deputy director at Reprieve – said:

“As the Prime Minister makes ever greater overtures towards the Saudi Government, the Kingdom continues to carry out appalling abuses – including torture, forced ‘confessions’ and death sentences for juveniles. Theresa May’s desire for closer relations with the Gulf must not cloud Britain’s commitment to human rights. The Prime Minister must make it absolutely clear to the Saudis that the UK condemns torture and the death penalty – and she must call for the immediate release of Ali, Dawood and Abdullah.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.