Saudi authorities arrested teenager Murtaja Qureiris in September 2014 when he was only 13 years old. He was held in detention for more than four years without charge, first in solitary confinement and without access to a lawyer. Now, at 18, Qureiris faces the death penalty for charges that include attending anti-government protests, allegedly being a member of an extremist “terrorist organization,” and helping to construct Molotov cocktails.
One of the charges leveled against the teenager dates from when he was only 10 years old.
One of the charges leveled against the teenager dates from when he was only 10 years old. It relates to his accompaniment of his older brother, activist Ali Qureiris, as he allegedly attacked a police station in the eastern Saudi Arabian town of Awamiya with incendiary devices. A separate charge involves his participation in his brother Ali’s funeral after he was killed during protests in 2011. Now tried in the state’s terrorism court, if convicted, the sentence could include death by crucifixion, or the dismemberment of his body after death.
Video footage published by CNN on June 7 allegedly shows a 10-year-old Qureiris participating in a demonstration in 2011 with a crowd of other children, all on bicycles. Moments after the events in the brief video clip, the article states that the young Qureiris lifted a megaphone to his lips, shouting, “The people demand human rights!” The video was recorded around the time of the earliest charge against him.
Three years later, Qureiris was arrested by Saudi border police as he and his family were making their way to Bahrain. Upon his arrest, Qureiris was brought to a juvenile detention center, where he was kept for a month. During this time, he alleges that he suffered beatings and mistreatment at the hands of his captors. Qureiris claims that the confession used by the Saudi authorities to support his conviction was obtained under duress. The boy was allegedly told by those interrogating him that he would be released in return for confessing to the charges brought against him.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been under increased scrutiny, particularly regarding the country’s use of capital punishment to suppress anti-government sentiment. In April, Saudi Arabia executed 37 men in a single day for alleged terrorism offences. Nearly all the executed men were from the Shi’a community. One was reportedly crucified, his body left on a pole to serve as a “deterrent.” The men’s alleged offences included attacking security installations, killing police, and cooperating with the state’s enemies, according to a Saudi Interior minister. A statement by the official Saudi Press Agency said that the men were executed “for adopting terrorist and extremist thinking and for forming terrorist cells to corrupt and destabilise security.”
Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said: “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.”
Amnesty reports that more than 100 Saudi Shi’as have been put on trial before the Special Criminal Court on vague charges stemming from their opposition to the government. Many of the accused are sentenced to death following trials that Amnesty has described as unfair, while convictions are often obtained using confessions extracted under torture or through intimidation.
Despite Saudi Arabia previously stating that it does not execute minors for crimes committed under the age of 18, in several cases, children have been sentenced to death for alleged crimes against the government, in contravention of international law.
Reuters and CNN have reported from unnamed sources that the boy received a 12-year sentence, but the Saudi government has not confirmed this.