Saudi Arabia Scraps Death Penalty for Man Jailed as Teen

Saudi Arabia has commuted the death sentence for a man who was arrested as a teenager to 10 years in jail, as the kingdom comes under scrutiny from the Biden administration over its human rights record.

The decision in the case of Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr follows a royal order last year that called for re-sentencing death row prisoners whose alleged crimes were committed as minors, bringing them under a 2018 law that set the maximum sentence for juveniles at 10 years incarceration.

Al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 and convicted of security and terrorism-related offenses after participating in protests, meaning he’s expected to be released next year, the government’s Human Rights Commission said in a statement. Two other minors -- arrested during the same wave of protests -- are also due to be released in 2022 after having their death sentences scrapped, it said.

On Friday, the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden called on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record, releasing political prisoners including women’s rights activists. The kingdom has long faced international criticism for criminal punishments that included beheadings and public floggings.

Officials have said they’re undertaking a broad program of judicial reform, including the re-sentencing of juvenile offenders. However, Human Rights Watch said the policy change left “glaring exceptions,” and potentially only applies to crimes that don’t carry a mandatory death penalty under the Saudi interpretation of Islamic law.

Al-Nimr was arrested after taking part in anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012 in the Eastern Province, home to a large segment of Shiites in the majority-Sunni Muslim country. The nephew of a prominent Shiite dissident executed in 2016, he was convicted on charges including sedition, robbery and belonging to a terrorist cell. He is believed to be around 26 years old now.

Biden said during his campaign he’ll treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” over rights concerns after the kingdom enjoyed a particularly friendly relationship with Donald Trump.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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