GENEVA – Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties condemns the Saudi court’s decision to imprison a child for his participation in protests and expressing his opinion. Geneva Council received numerious testimonies that the specialized criminal court in Saudi Arabia issued the final judgment of eight years in prison in the case of a young man, Murtaja Qurais. He was sentenced after being arrested in 2014 on the grounds of participation in protests for the rights of the Shi’a minority in the Kingdom.
Geneva Council expresses its concern that judicial proceedings against Qurais have been marred by violations of the rights of the defendant to defend himself, examine evidence and hear witnesses. The Saudi Public Prosecution was calling for the death sentence to be imposed on Qurais for “terrorism and incitement to rebellion”, previously death sentences were prevented as a result of the pressure by Arab and international human rights organizations.
Our first-hand sources confirmed that Qurais has spent 15 months in solitary confinement. His older brother Ali was shot dead by the Saudi security forces on December 23, 2011 and his father was arrested despite his deteriorating health, while his active brother Rida is detained in the Dammam mabahith prison since June 1, 2014.
According to the same sources, the Saudi border police arrested Qurais in September 2014, while he was on his way to the neighbouring Bahrain, with his family. He was placed in an individual cell in a prison for minors and he has been in pretrial detention ever since.
The Geneva Council considers that the accusations brought by the Public Prosecution Office against Qurais are fabricated and in disregard to his minor age at the time of his arrest, as he was charged with joining a terrorist group and committing acts of violence and riots against government installations. Amnesty International has previously referred to the young man’s case and confirmed that he was not visited by any lawyer until his first appearance before a court specialized in terrorism four years after his imprisonment.
The Geneva Council affirms that prison sentences for persons who were minors at the time of their arrest are legally void and violates the Saudi Juvenile Law that was amended in November 2018 and Article 15 of it stipulates that “if the juvenile is consummated (fifteen) at the time of its commission A verb or act punishable on it, the prescribed penalties shall be applied to him except for the imprisonment penalty, and he shall be punished by depositing in the house for a period not exceeding half of the maximum maximum penalty prescribed for that.
The GCRL calls for the annulment of the decision against Qurais and calls for his immediate release. Moroeover, we recommend the implementation of effective reforms in the kingdom that protect children from major defects in the Saudi criminal justice system, which exposes detainees to the risk of torture, unfair trials and the death penalty.
The Saudi authorities must also respect the fundamental rights of children, including applying legal safeguards stipulating that they may not be interrogated without the presence of a parent or legal guardian and lawyer, and ensuring that they are able to provide an adequate defence before an independent and impartial judicial body.