x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Saudi Arabia postpones executions of seven men convicted of robbery

The seven, to be executed by crucifixion and firing squad, were juveniles when they were arrested.

RIYADH // A Saudi security official said today executions of seven Saudis sentenced to death by crucifixion and firing squad have been postponed for a week.

He said King Abdullah would review the sentences. He met families of the seven on Sunday.

The official said today that the ruler of the southwestern province of Asir, Prince Faisal bin Abdel Aziz, ordered the postponement.

The seven were juveniles at the time they were arrested for armed robbery, a capital offense in Saudi Arabia. One said in an interview from prison that they were tortured to force confessions and barred access to lawyers.

The planned executions raised alarm among rights groups, with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch separately appealing to the Saudi authorities for stays.

The two groups said in separate statements that the men were juveniles when they were convicted of armed robbery.

"All seven men were between 16 and 20 when authorities arrested them in 2006 for allegedly committing a robbery in 2005," HRW said.

"There is strong evidence suggesting that the trials of all seven men violated basic principles of the right to a fair trial."

HRW's Deputy Middle East Director Eric Goldstein said in a statement late on Monday that "it will be outrageous if the Saudi authorities go ahead with these executions".

"It is high time for the Saudis to stop executing child offenders and start observing their obligations under international human rights law."

Amnesty International said the men were "tortured to make them confess" and sentenced to death following a "summary trial that was grossly unfair."

A Saudi rights activist, who requested anonymity, said that "it is best to retry them as the defendants say they haven't had defence lawyers".

So far this year the Saudi authorities have executed 17 people. In 2012, the kingdom executed 76 people, according to a tally based on official figures. Human Rights Watch put the number at 69.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press