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Saudi Arabia executes man convicted as teen in what activists say was a "deeply flawed" trial

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Riyadh — Saudi Arabia executed a man from the minority Shiite community on Tuesday who was convicted on charges related to an anti-government protest when he was a teenager, in what campaigners called a "deeply flawed" trial. Mustafa al-Darwish was executed in the eastern city of Dammam for launching an "armed revolt" against Saudi Arabia's ruler and "destabilizing security" in the kingdom, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Darwish was arrested in May 2015 over his alleged participation in protests during the Arab Spring uprisings between 2011 and 2012, said campaign groups including Amnesty International, which added that he was 17 or 18 at the time.

"By carrying out this execution the Saudi Arabian authorities have displayed a deplorable disregard for the right to life," Amnesty said in a statement. "He is the latest victim of Saudi Arabia's deeply flawed justice system which regularly sees people sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials based on confessions extracted through torture."

Britain-based campaign group Reprieve said authorities had not informed Darwish's family about his execution and they found out "by reading the news online."

Saudi Arabian national Mustafa al-Darwish is seen in a file photo provided by the British human rights campaign group Reprieve.  Reprieve

Reprieve, which said Darwish was placed in solitary confinement and tortured in detention, claimed that he was 17 at the time of his alleged offense.

In April last year, the kingdom announced it was ending the death penalty for those convicted of crimes committed while they were under 18.

Citing a royal decree, the kingdom's Human Rights Commission (HRC) had said individuals convicted as minors would receive a prison sentence of no more than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility.

"Once again the Saudi authorities have shown that their claims to (have) abolished the death penalty for children are worthless," said Ali al-Dubaisi, director of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR).

"The cruelty of this execution, without warning, for the crime of joining protests as a teenager, is the true face of (Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman's Saudi Arabia — not the endless empty promises of reform."

Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, has sought to blunt international criticism over the kingdom's rights record and its opaque judicial system, as he seeks to draw foreign investment and international tourists.

The kingdom has one of the world's highest rates of executions.

However, earlier this year, the HRC said it documented 27 executions in 2020, a decrease of 85 percent over the previous year due in part to a moratorium on the death penalty for drug-related offences.

By comparison, Saudi Arabia has executed 26 people since the beginning of this year, according to ESOHR.

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