Saudi Arabia ends death penalty for minors and flogging but Abdullah al-Hamid dies in detention

April 27, 2020

Many media reported on Saudi Arabia‘s King Salman having ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and to floggings, which should indeed be considered progress. King Salman’s son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp Saudi Arabia’s reputation globally. He’s also overseen a parallel crackdown on liberals, women’s rights activists, writers, moderate clerics and reformers. The 2018 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by agents who worked for the crown prince drew sharp criticism internationally. [for some ealrier posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

The latest royal decree could spare the death penalty for at least six men from the country’s minority Shiite community who allegedly committed crimes while under the age of 18, including Ali al-Nimr, who had participated in anti-government protests. Such activity carries terrorism-related charges in the kingdom for disturbing order and disobeying the ruler. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long called on the kingdom to abolish the use of the death penalty, particularly for crimes committed by minors. The president of the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, confirmed the latest decision in a statement Sunday, saying it helps the kingdom establish “a more modern penal code and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms.” He said “more reforms will be coming,” and that the two decisions “reflect how Saudi Arabia is forging ahead in its realization of critical human rights reforms even amid the hardship imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Five years ago, prominent Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was given 50 lashes before hundreds of spectators in the metropolitan city of Jiddah. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/]. It drew outrage and condemnation from around the world, including from many of Saudi Arabia’s Western allies.

In the meantime long prison sentences carry their own risk as seen in the case of Saudi human rights defender Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, has died in custody in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, according to the Right Livelihood Foundation, which awarded a prize [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/14/right-livelihood-award-urges-freedom-for-3-saudi-laureates/]. It said on Friday that al-Hamid, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence, was taken to hospital after suffering from ill-health in a Riyadh prison earlier this year. He subsequently had a stroke and fell into a coma in early April, according to rights groups including Amnesty International. “Dr al-Hamid was a fearless champion for human rights in Saudi Arabia,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director, said in a statement.

The Right Livelihood Foundation said al-Hamid was repeatedly denied crucial medical care and “paid the ultimate price for his convictions”. Ole von Uexkull, head of the foundation, blamed Saudi authorities for his death, saying that al-Hamid’s “unlawful imprisonment and inhumane treatment … led to his death“.

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