LONDON (Dispatches) -- Human rights activists have warned that Saudi authorities plan to execute dozens of teenagers from the kingdom’s Shia-populated Qatif region in Eastern Province over their participation in peaceful anti-regime protests.
Even though Saudi officials claimed last year to have halted the practice of executing people for crimes committed as a minor, the activists said, more than 40 teenagers face death penalty only because they took part in pro-democracy rallies in 2011, the Saudi Leaks news website reported.
The report comes less than a week after Saudi Arabia executed young Shia Muslim man Mustafa bin Hashim bin Issa al-Darwish, 26, who was convicted on charges stemming from his participation in an anti-regime protest as a minor.
Darwish was arrested in May 2015 and charged with protest-related offences, many of which occurred when he was 17. He was executed on June 15 in Dammam, a statement from the Saudi Ministry of Interior read.
Reprieve and Amnesty International said his confession was obtained under duress and that he recanted his confession, which he said was obtained through torture, in court.
Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.
The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime. Security forces have increased security measures across the province.
Over the years, numerous executions of Shia Muslims involved in protests have been carried out.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia executed 37 citizens, of which 34 were identified as Shia, in a mass execution for alleged terrorism-related crimes. In 2016, the kingdom executed 47 people in one day also for terrorism-related crimes. Among those executed was prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose death sparked protests from Pakistan to Iran. Saudi-Iran ties have not recovered and the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran remains shuttered since then.
Amnesty International said al-Darwish, who was arrested when he was 20, was placed in solitary confinement, held incommunicado for six months and denied access to a lawyer until the beginning of his trial two years later by the specialized criminal court in Riyadh, established to try terrorism cases.
The supreme court upheld al-Darwish’s death sentence. Amnesty International said his case was then referred to the presidency of state security, which is overseen directly by the royal court and over which Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman wields immense power. The Saudi monarch, King Salman, ratifies executions, most of which are carried out by beheading.
The kingdom has carried out 26 executions so far this year, according to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights. That’s compared with 27 throughout all of 2020.
Rights organizations say that the Shia community mostly based in the oil-rich Eastern Province is marginalized and persecuted by the Wabbahi rulers and that the death penalty is used to quell dissent among Shia Muslims in the country.
There are 53 people currently on death row in Saudi Arabia, according to theEuropean Saudi Organization for Human Rights, or ESOHR, statistics from last March. Sixteen of these are going through a final appeals process and three death sentences, including al-Darwish’s, have been finalized. Of the 53 prisoners, five committed crimes when they were under 18. Almost all of those on death row come from the