Saudi Teen Faces Death Penalty For Protesting As A Child

Human rights groups have decried reports that a Saudi teenager -- who took part in anti-government protests as a child -- is now facing execution.

Murtaja Qureiris, 18, is facing the death penalty over a series of offences, some of which date back to when he was 10 years old, Amnesty International claimed.

CNN last week published footage of Qureiris participating in bike ride demonstrations in the largely Shiite eastern provinces of the country during the 2011 Arab Spring.

Authorities detained and arrested him three years later. He has been in jail since.

Human rights group Amnesty International confirmed the Saudi public prosecution office sought the death penalty in October last year, calling it an "appalling" crackdown on political dissent.

“There should be no doubt that the Saudi Arabian authorities are ready to go to any length to crack down on dissent against their own citizens, including by resorting to the death penalty for men who were merely boys at the time of their arrest,” Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said.

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Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of execution in the world, including against children, despite it being strictly prohibited by international law for use against those aged below 18.

Saudi Arabia previously told the United Nations it imposes the death penalty "for the most serious offences" and is subject to the "strictest controls".

According to CNN, the country also said it does not execute prisoners convicted of crimes below the criminal age of responsibility, which was raised to 12 in 2006.

Last April, Amnesty International confirmed another young man was among 37 people convicted on "terrorism" charges who were put to death in a "shocking" one-day execution spree.

Abdulkareem al-Hawaj was convicted of a crime that took place when he was under the age of 18.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities have a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters -- including children -- from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority,” Maalouf said.

She said execution is often applied after "grossly unfair trials" that rely on confessions extracted through torture. 

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According to the group, Qureiris -- a member of the country's Shiite minority -- was held in solitary confinement for a month after his arrest in September 2014.

He was subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation, through which he was promised to be released if he confessed to the charges against him.

According to Amnesty, his alleged crimes include participating in anti-government protests, attending the funeral of his brother Ali who was killed in a 2011 protest, throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police station, and firing at security forces.

An undated photo of Murtaja Qureiris PHOTO: Amnesty International

Qureiris has denied the charges and said that confessions were obtained under duress, according to CNN.

As the now 18 year old awaits his next trial session, the human rights group is calling on the international community to ramp up pressure on Saudi Arabia.

"They must take a public stand on these cases and demand that the Saudi authorities end their use of the death penalty once and for all," Maalouf said.

Featured image: Amnesty International