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Saudi Arabia – Execution of Minor Mustafa Al Darwish

Saudi Arabia executed a man named Mustafa Al Darwish for offences allegedly committed by rights groups while under 18, despite Saudi Arabia’s claims to have abolished the death penalty for many childhood crimes. 

Mustafa Isa Al Darwish was arrested in May 2015 for demonstration when he was 17. He was executed in Dammam last July, according to a statement by the Ministry of the Interior.

The Saudi authorities claimed that the convict had ” disturbed security in this country by forming with some terrorists an armed terrorist cell aimed at monitoring and killing security personnel, rioting, causing chaos, sectarian discord and bomb-making with a view to disturbing security”.

Last year Saudi Arabia announced that it would stop applying the death penalty to those convicted of crimes committed by minors and  instead would make the juvenile spend up to ten years in a juvenile detention facility. Saudi Authority affirmed that it would apply the decision retroactively.

However, Mustafa Al Darwish had been executed despite the pledges made by Saudi Arabia to the international community. 

Few weeks before the execution, Rebrief Organisation had warned that a list of 53 citizens currently on death row in Saudi Arabia, including 16 cases, who would be executed, while final death sentences for 3 peoples were handed down without appeal including Mustafa Darwish. The Organisation noted that most of the cases go back to AlQatif region, which is the stronghold of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. It added that “the problem is that there’s always a gap between what Saudi authorities statements about reforms in criminal justice systems and what they actually do.

Human rights organisations calling for serious reform of criminal justice system

Michael Page, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Section of Human Rights Watch, said about the case of the execution of minors: “If Saudi Arabia is serious about reforming the criminal justice system, it must initially prohibit the death penalty for minor offenders in all cases.

Research by the Saudi European Organisation for Human Rights, shows that Saudi Arabia carried out its 64 executions in 2021, more than the double of last year, against at least eight of them convicted of “high treason” or alleged political crimes, including Mustafa Al-Darwish, who was executed for participating in anti-government protests when he was 17.

Amnesty International denounced the sentence handed down against Al-Darwish and his execution by the Saudi authorities, despite appeals from several organisations to stop it. 

HRW stated that “International human rights law strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty for persons under the age of 18 at the time of the crime’s commission, and then the delegation revealed its regrets that the young man was sentenced to death after a trial with serious defects. In particular, the Human Rights Organisation noted that while in detention, Mustafa Al Darwish was held incommunicado for six months and was denied access to a lawyer until the commencement of his trial two years later, in violation of his right to a fair trial.

Experts at Human Rights Council emphasised that “the death penalty shall in no way be applied to individuals exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and religion or belief. They also urged Saudi Arabia “to cease all outstanding executions in the country, to establish a moratorium on the death penalty as a matter of urgency and to consider its total abolition.”

Sport and art will never substitute real reform, which includes civil and political rights

The first session of the Red Sea International Film Festival was announced that it would take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Social media was filled with news about the festival in a country where cinema has been banned until not long ago and where women are restricted to the most basic aspects of their lives. 

Furthermore, the launch of the mid best Sandstorm Festival in Saudi Arabia prompted activists to recall Riyadh’s legal file which still has a lot of violations. 

Despite its openness, some consider it an attempt to clear the human rights record before the world.

Human Rights Watch said: World music stars participating in performances at the upcoming festival in Saudi Arabia should either talk about human rights or not participate. 

The organisation also found that the recent social reforms, while important, did not comply with international law standards or merely offered superficial freedoms. 

It concluded saying that artists and performers at the Mid best Sandstorm should use microphones, theaters and interviews to speak out about rights violations in Saudi Arabia or refuse to participate in a Saudi scheme.

The Red Sea Film Festival also received the same criticism as several calls to boycott raised. 

They warned that such festivals aim to deviate the attention of the world from the violations committed by the Saudi authorities at home and abroad. 

Madhawi Rashid, professor at the London School of Economics, and a prominent critic of the Kingdom, said that “the film festival without freedom of expression turns into propaganda. Sport and art will never be a substitute for real reform, which includes civil and political rights.

Filmmaker Sami Khan called on artists to boycott the festival given Saudi Arabia’s “disturbing” human rights record.

The Secretary General of the Saudi National Rally Party, Yahya Asiri, said that the only way for the Saudi authorities to clear its record, is to release all political detainees from prisons. 

He added that the deal made by the Saudi investment fund to buy the Newcastle Club was a clear attempt by the authorities to cover up its human rights violations. 

He stressed that through such activities, Saudi Arabia sought to normalise and consolidate its relations with Countries that have been critical to the country over its human rights situation. 

Asiri criticised the complicity of governments that cooperate with Saudi Arabia, pointing out that these entities avoid discussing the Saudi human rights file due to mutual interests with the Saudi government. He called 

on Newcastle fans to put ethics and human rights values over all other considerations.

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