Saudi Arabia abolishes death sentence for convicts who commit crimes as minors

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Saudi Arabia will no longer use the death sentence for individuals who committed crimes while still minors under 18 years of age, according to a document seen by Al Arabiya English, which cites a royal decree by King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

A senior Saudi official confirmed to Al Arabiya English on Sunday the new Saudi reform.

It is the second major judicial reform in a week after the Kingdom abolished flogging as a form of punishment in “Ta’zir” cases, in a decision by Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for the Supreme Court. That punishment is to be replaced by prison sentences or fines, or both.

"The decree means that any individuals who received a death sentence for crimes committed while he or she is a minor can no longer face execution. Instead, the individual will receive a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility,” the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) President Awwad Alawaad said, according to Reuters.

The concept of “Ta’zir” allows judges to decide on the form of punishments for crimes which are not specifically outlined by Islamic Sharia law according to the Quran or the Prophet’s word (Hadith).

Speaking on the judicial reforms, Saudi Arabian researcher Fahad al-Shoqiran said that the Kingdom’s authorities are making the changes to the “Ta’zir” concept given Saudi Arabia’s rapidly changing environment under its Saudi Vision 2030.

“The abolishment of flogging and a review of the Ta’zir concept is being welcomed by many in the Kingdom and it makes sense that these judicial reforms are happening now, especially as Saudi Arabia is quickly modernizing and opening its borders to the world under the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 program,” said al-Shoqiran.

Hamid Harasani, a Saudi lawyer who studied Islamic law in Saudi Arabia and trained in common law in the United Kingdom and Canada, said flogging was inconsistently applied.

“Judicial application of flogging in Ta’zir was not consistent across different courts and in some times overly expansive. This step moves the judicial system toward a focus of rehabilitation rather than mere retribution,” he said.

The HRC welcomed the abolishment of flogging when it was enacted on Friday.

“This decision ensures that those who were once sentenced with floggings, will now receive fines or prison sentences instead. This significant reform was implemented under the direct supervision of King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” the HRC said in a tweet.

Alawwad said: “This reform is a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia’s human rights agenda, and merely one of over 70 human rights reforms carried out in the Kingdom over the past five years.”

“Although these reforms improve the lives of a wide range of beneficiaries, including women, workers, youth, and the elderly, they all stem from the same overarching desire to make a better life for all citizens and residents of the Kingdom,” he added.

“But even within the Kingdom, there has been consensus for quite some time that flogging as a form of punishment did not fit the current state of affairs in Saudi Arabia. In many cases, flogging has been handed down as a ruling by judges who are free to interpret it as a sentence under their own judgment and there was no consistency in which crime fits it as a punishment,” the researcher added.

In many cases, al-Shoqiran said that a prison sentence or fine or a mix of both rulings was favorable as a punishment for the crime depending on its nature, al-Shoqiran said, while arguing that flogging would sometimes not be as severely enforced on a person depending on who was carrying out the punishment.

- With Reuters

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