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Human-rights organisation concerned Saudis could continue putting kids to death despite law changes

BRITISH human-rights organisations have raised serious concerns that the Saudi legal system could continue to seek death sentences against children, despite new laws being announced today. 

An unofficial version of a royal decree by Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission has announced that children are no longer eligible for the death penalty in the kingdom.

The full text of the document has not yet been published, but the commission has stated that anyone convicted of crimes that took place while they were under the age of 18 will face a maximum punishment of 10 years in juvenile detention.

However, initial legal analysis of a version posted online suggests that there are significant loopholes that will enable prosecutors to sentence children to death. The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR) said that little has changed legally. 

And rights group Reprieve said that if the Saudis are serious about reform, death sentences for those at risk of execution should be commuted immediately. 

Reprieve director Maya Foa said: “These will be nothing more than empty words as long as child defendants remain on death row.”

Four of those who still face execution have exhausted all legal remedies and are at imminent risk of execution. 

Of the rest, one’s death sentence is subject to appeal, and eight are currently on trial. 

All were charged with terrorism offences after attending pro-democracy demonstrations, which would remain death-eligible, irrespective of the age of the defendant.

The commission has not announced whether the new decree will be applied retroactively.

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