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On October 27, 2019, the criminal court in Tabuk in northern Saudi Arabia issued a death sentence for minor Abdullah Al-Huwaiti after he was charged with armed robbery of a jewelry store and the killing of a soldier with a firearm in Duba Governorate.Five others were convicted for their involvement in the crime and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment and one thousand lashes. They were also ordered to pay 800,000 Saudi riyals, an amount equal in value to the stolen goods.
On May 8, 2017, masked security agents raided the family home of the then 14-year-old Al-Huwaiti(born on July 18, 2002), arresting him and his brother Abdulaziz. Both were taken to the police station in Duba, where they were charged with the crime of robbery and murder committed on May 6, 2017.
Abdullah’s mother posted his diary entries on Twitter which spokeof the treatment he received from the time of his arrest until he signed off on statements recorded by the investigator. The boy was subjected to appalling conditions that compelled him to admit to statements he did not make and to incidents he was not involved in.
In his diary, Abdullah said he was forced to stand for long hours at the Duba police station while guards insulted and verbally abused him. When he was transferred to the criminal investigation center in Tabuk, the physical and psychological torture began to intensify in order to make him confess to committing the crime. This despite the fact that surveillance camerasrevealed Abdullah to have beenonthe Corniche in the city of Duba at the time the crime occurred.
The following are among the types of torture Abdullah al-Huwaitiexperienced:
- Forced to stand for hours at a time until he lost consciousness.
- Beaten and slapped on the face.
- Hit with an electrical cable on the soles of his feet (falaqa).
- Hit with an electrical cable on different parts of his body until he lost consciousness.
- Forced to stand directly in front of an air conditioner.
- Severely beaten while being forced to hold the legs of his brother Abdulazizduring the latter’s torture with falaqa.
- Psychologically tortured by being told his mother and sisters were in prison and would only be released once he confessed to having committed the crime.
Abdullah mentioned that after enduring rounds of physical torture at the hands of Captain Mohammed Saleh Al-Anzi,he told his tormentor to write whatever he wanted and agreed to sign it with his fingerprint. Captain Al-Anzi then ordered another officer to write while he dictated. When Abdullahbecame hesitant, Al-Anzi falsely claimed that his mother and sisters were in prison and that he would release them along with his brother Abdulazizwho had been arrested on the same charge. This prompted Abdullah tofingerprint theconfession.
Abdullah also wrotethat he was then transferred to the juvenile observation home in Tabuk. Investigator Ali al-Shamrani asked him to explain what happened to which he responded that his statements at the criminal investigation center were made under duress. Next, he was taken to a prisoncell. Sometime after midnight, Captain Mohammed Saleh Al-Anzi, who had previously tortured him, came in with a group of soldiers. They woke him up and informed him he was being transferred again. Abdullah was blindfolded and escorted back to the criminal investigation unit. According to his diary, Al-Anzi threatened to pull out his nails, suspend him from one hand, and torture him in other ways he could scarcely imagine. Abdullahpleaded with him, promisingnot to tell anyone about his treatment again.
The next day, Captain Al-Anzi took him to court. Judge Ali Abdullah read outthe confession and Al-Huwaiti pleaded guilty, afraid of what would happen to him ifhe revealed how he was tortured. Afterwards, Al-Anzismirked and told him: “Now you can eat!”
In an audio clip broadcast on WhatsApp, Abdullah’s mother appealed to King Salman along withthe Saudi Crown Prince, Minister of Interior, and Minister of Justice to intervene to save her son’s life. She said that he had been sentenced to death unjustly for a crime he knew nothing about and which she believed he could not have committed.Furthermore, her familystill did not know why Abdullah was arrested when security forces brutally raided their home in clear violation of the law.
She went on to say that her son had been subjected to the worst forms of torture at the criminal investigation unit in Tabuk as a means of extracting a confession from him. His treatment was so severe that he lost consciousness and was hospitalized as a result. During his investigation,he was withouta public prosecutor, social worker, or legal guardian. All this seriously violatesSaudi Arabia’s Juvenile Code, as stipulated by Article 11: “The Prosecutor’s Office shall not investigate juveniles except in the presence of his legal guardian, representative, investigator, social worker, or lawyer and the investigation shall be carried out in his home. If this is not possible in the interest of the investigation, then it shall be carried out in another location that is appropriate considering the age of the juvenile. This statuedefines the necessary procedures and regulations for such an investigation.” Abdullah’s mother said she had had no information about her son for four months since his arrest. Sherequestedthe criminal investigation unit to be able to see him, if even from a distance as she sat in her car or from behind glass, to make sure he was alright. Her request never received a response.
She rejected the accusations made against Abdullah, stating that he was with his brother and friends on the Corniche inDuba when the crime took place as confirmed by eyewitnesses and surveillance cameras. If the criminal investigation unit extracted his confession despite having watched the camera footage, then who, she wondered, stood to benefit from placing the blame on her son?
Mrs. Al-Huwaiti also disclosed that a brigadier general initially involved in the casehad confirmed Abdullah was on the Corniche at the time of the crime. This witness was, however, later excluded from the investigation. She further mentioned that a man had gone to the Duba city police station and confessed to committing the entire crime. He was released for allegedly being mentally unstable despite having described to police in detail how he had carried out the robbery, killed a soldier, and fled in a security vehicle.
In its monitoring of this case, the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights finds that the facts publishedabout Abdullah Al-Huwaitiare consistent with the practice of torture, even of minors, by official agencies. Using statements extracted under torture to issue and execute death sentences is a common practice that has been observed in several cases. Security serviceofficers nonetheless enjoy immunity from accountability for their violations and crimes against prisoners. Thisis due to a lack of judicial independence along with the total control exercised by the Presidency of State Security – which reports directly to the King – over all official agencies.
In addition, ESOHR stresses that the death sentence imposed on Al-Huwaiti violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 1996, as well as the domestic Juvenile Code which explicitly prohibits the issuance of death sentences against minors (under 15 years of age) and stipulates alternative penalties for them (Article 15). ESOHR considers that justice for minor Abdullah Al-Huwaitiwould entail dropping his death sentence, investigating all allegations of torture that he spoke about, and punishing those responsible.