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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Outside view of the General Court in Riyadh. (AFP)
RIYADH – The Saudi public prosecutor has ordered a review of death penalties issued against three individuals, including the nephew of a prominent cleric whose execution sparked demonstrations in Iran, a statement said on Thursday.
Ali al-Nimr, the nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher, were arrested for their alleged protest participation and violence against security forces in 2011 and 2012.
They were sentenced to death in 2016 for terrorism-related crimes committed before they had reached the age of 18 years.
Initially, Nimr, now 25 years old, was hit with relatively minor charges related to his participation in demonstrations in the eastern part of the country, a Shia-majority region.
However when his uncle, Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was arrested, prosecutors ramped up their case.
Instead of minor infractions related to the protests, Nimr now stood accused of joining a terrorist organisation, throwing Molotov cocktails and arson.
After being moved to an adult prison at the age of 18, he confessed to a string of crimes before rescinding his confession later on.
In late April this year, Saudi Arabia introduced criminal justice changes that curb the death penalty for some child offenders.
The decreed changes appeared to expand on a law introduced in 2018, the “Juvenile Act,” which provides some protections for children involved with the criminal justice system.
The law sets the maximum prison term for anyone convicted of committing a crime before they turn 18 at 10 years, but this limitation does not apply to qisas and hudud cases.
Qisas, or retributive justice, is usually applied for murder and hudud are serious crimes defined under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic law that carry specific penalties.
The April decree allows for applying the 2018 law’s provisions retroactively, meaning that prosecutors are obliged to review the cases of convicted children and drop punishments for those who have already served 10 years.
This means that Nimr, Marhoon and Zaher could be eligible for reduced sentences under the regulations if Saudi authorities do not classify their cases as terrorism related.
In the wake of the so-called “Arab spring,” the uncle of Nimr, Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, played a major role in demonstrations by Shias. At a protest in July 2012, he was arrested after being shot in the leg by police.
The cleric represents a more radical strain among Saudi Shia who feel the community’s established leaders have failed to make headway with ending what they see as systematic discrimination.
In October 2014, Nimr was sentenced to death in a closed trial on charges such as being disloyal to the ruling family, using violence and seeking foreign meddling. The case was widely criticised by rights groups.
In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed the cleric, a move that sparked a violent protest at the Saudi Embassy in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
Commenting on the execution at the time, Gulf analyst Deborah Amos said carrying out the death sentence on Nimr sends a strong message to Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority that “Iran has no say in internal Saudi decisions and domestic dissent has limits.”
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