Six years ago, Saudi Arabian authorities arrested Mustafa Hashem al-Darwish and charged him with attending anti-government protests years earlier, when he was 17. According to Reprieve, a U.K. nonprofit that investigates human rights abuses, a court found al-Darwish guilty and sentenced him to death, despite the fact that he was a minor at the time he allegedly attended the protests.
On Tuesday, without warning, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior announced al-Darwish, then 26, had been executed. The announcement, released in Arabic, accused al-Darwish of “using arms to revolt against the ruler, destabilizing security and forming an armed terrorist cell.”
Human rights advocates say al-Darwish’s trial was unjust. They have been calling on Saudi Arabia to halt the executions of at least nine other people sentenced to death for crimes allegedly committed as minors, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits executions for crimes committed by minors.
Groups like the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say authorities tortured al-Darwish and others charged with childhood offenses until they confessed.
“Where is the justice?” al-Huwaiti’s mother tweeted in Arabic on June 16. “We call on the relevant authorities to intervene and save the innocent … and hold the corrupt who are hiding accountable.”
According to Reprieve, al-Huwaiti was 14 years old when police arrested him, in 2017, and tortured him until he confessed to the charge of robbing a jewelry store at gunpoint. He was convicted and sentenced to death, despite having an alibi showing he was with friends at the time of the alleged crime.
“We’re really quite terrified that Abdullah, if his death sentence is upheld, will be executed for a crime that he could not have committed at the age of 14,” Jeed Basyouni, who oversees Reprieve’s work on the death penalty in the Middle East and North Africa, told NPR.
Saudi Arabia has carried out 26 executions so far this year, according to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights.
Despite repeated claims by the Saudi Arabian government that the death penalty had been abolished for minors, it remains a possible punishment for men like al-Huwaiti, facing imminent execution for crimes they allegedly committed as children. In 2019, for example, a man arrested at 16 was one of 37 people put to death in a mass execution, according to Amnesty International.
“They say things for a quick win, but then no one seems to actually want to do the hard work of making sure that children are protected,” Basyouni said.
Months before al-Darwish was executed, Saudi Arabian authorities told the U.N. Human Rights Council that alleged child offenders would serve a maximum sentence of 10 years in a juvenile institution instead of being executed.
U.N. human rights experts in March expressed “deep concern for the fate of all those who remain on death row, including Mr. Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who was also sentenced to death for a crime allegedly committed when he was a minor and is now facing execution following a trial marred by torture allegations.”
Activists are calling on prominent public officials, like U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to raise al-Huwaiti’s case with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and condemn executions for childhood crimes.
“It’s important that they know that the world is actually paying attention to everything that happens in Saudi Arabia,” Basyouni said.
Basyouni worries that, like al-Darwish’s family, al-Huwaiti’s family will receive no notice of his execution and no indication of where he’s buried.
“Since his arrest, we have known nothing but pain,” al-Darwish’s family said in a statement. “It is a living death for the whole family.”