The families of three young men arrested for their involvement in anti-government protests while under the age of 18, fear their sons are among four people reported to be facing execution any day now.

Call on Saudi Arabia to immediately stop the executions of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher

47 executed on same day

The family of Ali al-Nimr expressed fears on social media that he, along with Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, is among the prisoners referred to in a government-run newspaper article published yesterday. The article said the scheduled executions will complete a wave of punishments for terrorism offences that saw 47 people executed on the same day in January.

“If these executions go ahead, Saudi Arabia will demonstrate its utter disdain for international law, which prohibits executions of people for crimes committed under the age of 18. Condemning these young men to death despite grave flaws in their trials and credible allegations that their ‘confessions’ were extracted under torture, would be a sickening example of the authorities’ disregard for human life,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities should immediately stop the planned executions and establish an official moratorium on executions. They must also order impartial investigations into allegations of torture by security officers, and undertake fundamental reform of the judicial system to put an end to such egregious violations.”

17 years old

Ali al-Nimr was arrested in February 2012 when he was 17 years old, and sentenced to death in May 2014 by the deeply deficient Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Jeddah for 12 offences that included taking part in anti-government protests, attacking security forces, possessing a machine-gun and carrying out an armed robbery.

His mother told Amnesty International that there were “wounds and swollen bruises” on his body when she visited him in prison and that his treatment there had left him visibly frail and weak.

Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher were arrested on 22 May and 3 March 2012, when they were aged 17 and 16 respectively, and sentenced to death by the SCC in Riyadh in October 2014 on similar charges.

All three have said their “confessions” were obtained under torture and other ill-treatment in detention, but the court has refused to order an investigation into these allegations.

Particularly shocking

In January this year, Ali al-Nimr’s uncle, the Shi’a Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, was put to death along with 46 other people on the same day, after a politically motivated and grossly unfair trial. Like Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the three young activists are members of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a Muslim minority, which is subject to systematic harassment and discrimination. The mass executions followed reports in national media outlets close to the Saudi Arabian authorities that at least 50 people would soon be put to death in a single day.

“Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty to silence dissent sends a chilling message to anybody who dares to speak out against the authorities,” said James Lynch.

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Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times and in all cases without exception, but has described Saudi Arabia’s arbitrary application of death sentences as particularly shocking due to the lack of basic safeguards in trials.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is legally binding on Saudi Arabia, makes clear that no death sentences may be imposed for offences committed by individuals under the age of 18.

Between August 2014 and June 2015 at least 175 people were put to death, usually by beheading and after deplorably flawed judicial proceedings - an average execution rate of one person every two days. Almost half of executions carried out in recent years were for non-lethal crimes.