Saudi Arabia put an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors on Sunday after effectively abolishing the flogging as the kingdom seeks to dull criticism of its human rights record.
The reforms underscore the efforts of de facto crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to modernize the ultra-conservative kingdom long associated with a fundamentalist strain of Wahhabi Islam.
The death penalty has been abolished for those convicted of crimes committed when they were minors, said the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, Awwad Alawwad, in a statement, citing a royal decree.
“Instead, the individual will be sentenced to a prison term not exceeding 10 years in a juvenile detention center,” the statement said.
The decree is expected to save the lives of at least six men from the Shiite minority community who are on death row.
They were accused of participating in anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings when they were under the age of 18.
Last year, United Nations human rights experts made an urgent appeal to Saudi Arabia to suspend plans for their execution.
“This is an important day for Saudi Arabia,” said Awwad Alawwad.
“The decree helps us establish a more modern penal code.”
High execution rate
The kingdom has one of the highest execution rates in the world, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking punishable by death.
Saudi Arabia executed at least 187 people in 2019, according to an official-based count, the highest since 1995 when 195 people were killed.
Since January 12, people have been executed, according to official data.
Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy governed by a strict form of Islamic law.
On Saturday, the HRC announced that Saudi Arabia had effectively abolished flogging as a punishment, which has long attracted condemnation from human rights groups.
The most publicized case of flogging in recent years has been the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 for “insulting” Islam.
But a “hudud” or a more severe sentence under Islamic law, such as lashes, are still applicable for serious offenses, said a Saudi official.
“Hudud”, which means “borders” in Arabic, is inflicted for sins such as rape, murder or theft.
But the “hudud” sanctions are rarely imposed because many offenses must be proven by confessions or be verified by several adult Muslim witnesses, added the official.