In another instance of crushing political dissent, Saudi Arabia has sentenced a boy to death for participating in anti-government Arab Spring protests. He was 13-years old when he was arrested.
The boy identified as Murtaja Qureiris was arrested by Saudi officials in September 2014 on charges of terrorism. He was sent to the detention centre for participating in bike protests in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province as a young boy in 2011.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, the Public Prosecution of Saudi Arabia had sought the death penalty for Qureiris, now 18 years old, last August for a series of offences, some of which date back to when the boy was just ten years old.
In November 2016, the UN Working Group for Arbitrary Detention had addressed a case of a minor that matched Qureiris in which it was found that he had been held in solitary confinement, subjected to beatings and intimidation and his confessions extracted on the pretence of freedom in the aftermath of his confession.
In May 2017, he was moved to al-Mabaheth prison, an adult facility, even though he was still only 16 years old.
Throughout his detention, Qureiris was denied access to a lawyer until after his first court session at the Specialised Criminal Court on August 2018. The court, set up in 2008, is used for cases involving human rights activists and protesters.
The charges against him include participating in anti-government protests, attending the funeral of his brother Ali Qureiris (killed in a protest in 2011), joining a "terrorist organisation," throwing Molotov cocktails at a police station and firing at security forces. He is currently awaiting his next trial session.
The report published by the CNN showed video footage where a group of protesters on bicycles, led by the then 10-year-old Qureiris, is seen chanting "the people demand human rights!".
According to CNN, the prosecution is seeking to impose the harshest form of the death penalty on Qureires, which may include crucifixion or dismemberment after execution despite not holding him responsible for any loss of life.
The prosecutors have reportedly argued that his "sowing of sedition" warranted the worst possible punishment, according to the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.
It is also reported that one of his brothers has been jailed and his father was detained last year.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East Research Director, said "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."
Apart from Quereris, three other boys, Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon, who had been arrested in 2012 for alleged crimes committed before the age of 18 also face execution.
It is argued that Qureiris' case is part of the government's crackdown of Shi'a minorities and political dissenters since the Crown prince Muhammad bin Salman took over the throne in 2015.
In April, officials had carried out the execution of two minors including Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, a Shi'a boy who was arrested when he was 16-years old based on offences related to involvement in anti-government protests. He was among 37 men put to death in one day as part of an execution spree. Most of the executed men belonged to the Shi'a community.
The UN Human rights Watch have stated that the Saudi government have used counterterrorism regulations to suppress political demonstration of dissent.
While the criminal age of responsibility is unclear due to the absence of written penal code, the government informed the Committee on the Rights of Child in 2006 that it had raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years.
According to the Interior Ministry, Saudi Arabia executed 139 persons in 2018. Around 54 of those executed were convicted for non-violent drug crimes.
Most executions are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public.