Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for its corporal punishment and executions, is reportedly on the brink of beheading a teenage boy who was arrested at the age of 15 for attending a protest.
Abdullah al-Zaher, now 19, is believed to be among the 52 prisoners who are set to be executed some time later this week. The other prisoners include Ali Muhammad al-Nimr — the juvenile offender whose death sentence made headlines earlier this year.
Saudi authorities arrested Zaher in March 2012, just days before his 16th birthday, in the eastern Shia province of the ultra-conservative kingdom. Not only did the police beat him at the time, but they also charged him with “harboring” protesters, attending a demonstration, chanting slogans, setting a car on fire, “concealing the offense of incitement” and throwing petrol bombs.
Since the government will carry out the mass execution at any moment, the distraught family of the young prisoner has made one last ditch attempt to save their son’s life. Despite the danger of repercussions from the Saudi authorities, Zaher’s parents have gone public with his story and have asked world leaders to intervene in the matter.
“Please help me save my son from the imminent threat of death. He doesn’t deserve to die just because he participated in a protest rally,” Hassan al-Zaher, the teen’s father, told The Guardian. “He was forced to sign a paper that the police fabricated and that he was not able to read under a threat of corporal punishment. He told me that he did not throw Molotov [cocktails] or anything similar.”
Human rights charity Reprieve claims the juvenile offender was tortured and forced into signing a document without being aware of its contents. The authorities later used the said manuscript as a “confession” in the closed trial against Zaher.
“Abdullah al-Zaher has been through a horrifying ordeal,” said Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve. “It is utterly disgraceful that the Saudi authorities are now threatening to carry out his beheading imminently, along with the killing of other juveniles like Ali al-Nimr. Those governments who are among the closest Saudi allies — notably the U.K. and the U.S. — must step in without delay and urge the Saudi authorities to change course.”
Saudi Arabia's secretive Specialized Criminal Court sentenced the 19-year-old to beheading in 2014. His punishment was upheld this year after prosecutor requested that he be crucified after his execution. He is currently in solitary confinement.
The charity is tracking the cases of three juveniles: Zaher, Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon, who was 17 at the time of his arrest.
“What we know from the families of the three is that they are in solitary confinement and being prepared for execution,” a Reprieve representative explained. “They have been moved and undergone medical examinations, which seem to suggest their beheading is imminent. The whole business of executions in Saudi Arabia is shrouded in secrecy, and prisoners are often beheaded without any notice to family or lawyers.”
Saudi Arabia executed 102 people in the first six months of this year, which is more than in all of 2014, according to Amnesty International.