The wind blew in favor of the Arab Spring
Murtaja Qureiris was barely ten years old when, in a concentration of children with bicycles, he threw a megaphone in his hand, an appeal: “The people demand human rights.” For that episode he was arrested three years later and now, just over the age of majority, he faces capital punishment, with the prosecutor’s request that his body be subjected to public crucifixion and dismemberment.
“ Murtaja is undoubtedly the youngest victim of a Saudi judicial system that blatantly violates international law,” acknowledges Maya Foa, director of the British NGO Reprieve. “ There are many other young people on the Saudi death row, with an imminent risk of execution for exercising their right to freedom of expression.” Western partners in the kingdom should demand justice for all of them, “he says.
Murtaja has become the umpteenth icon of the ordeal suffered by those who challenge the Saudi monarchy of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. The young man comes from a province in eastern Saudi Arabia and grew up in a family of activists of the Shia minority, which denounces decades of marginalization. His brother Ali died in the government repression of one of the marches that have taken the street since 2011, in the heat of the revolts that shook the region and that were stifled with Western complicity through a renewed wave of authoritarianism.
The minor was arrested in September 2014 but the Saudi public prosecutor’s office did not file charges against him until three years later. Among the accusations are participating in anti-government protests, attending his brother’s funeral, being in possession of firearms, throwing Molotov cocktails at a police station, and enrolling in a terrorist organization. Murtaja, transferred to a juvenile detention center, spent his first month behind bars in solitary confinement.
His defense denounces that he was forced to offer a confession with the false promise that he would be released. Far from recovering it, in May 2017 he was taken to an adult prison. The authorities did not allow him to contact a lawyer until the first hearing of his trial, held last August before a court specialized in terrorism crimes. According to Amnesty International, the prosecutor’s request is that he be sentenced to capital punishment — usually by beheading — and subjected to “crucifixion,” a term used by local courts to refer to the public exposure of the body after the slaughter.
His more than likely future on death row has now raised international alarm. “There are no more serious violations of international law than the execution of a child.” By asking for the death penalty for Murtaja, shortly after executing others who were arrested as teenagers, the Saudi regime is publicizing its impunity to the world. , denounces Foa.
The “via crucis” of Murtaja, which awaits the next session of his trial, is not an isolated case in the ultraconservative realm. “There are at least ten minors who were executed during the reign of Salman, including six in April, a practice that has become common in this government,” Ali Adubisi, director of the European Organization, told the newspaper. Saudi Human Rights.
“Along with Murtaja, the lives of three other minors, Dawud al Marhun, Ali al Nimr and Abdalá al Zaher are in danger due to the brutality of the government,” adds Adubisi. The best known case is precisely that of Al Nimr, 24 years old and nephew of Nimr al Nimr , a Shiite reformer executed in early 2016 for leading the peaceful protests that roamed the Saudi province of Al Qatif demanding an end to discrimination against Shia minority in the country and a constitutional reform.
At the end of April, Riyadh executed 37 prisoners in six cities of the kingdom. The victims were, for the most part, members of the battered Shia minority and had been convicted of espionage, violence, terrorism and participation in demonstrations. Among the envoys to the scaffold were three subjects who were arrested when they were minors. “The information we use tells us that other minors are candidates to join the death row,” admits Adubisi.
In all cases, the activist emphasizes, the same pattern was met. “The minors were executed after confessions extracted under torture and coercion, most were accused of protesting and claiming rights and have been deprived of any legal right, some have not even had the opportunity to meet with a lawyer,” he said.
The recent executions have attracted international condemnation for a country that is still discredited by the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. According to Human Rights Watch, 139 people were executed in the kingdom last year. So far in 2019, 110 people have suffered the same fate. Riyadh alleges that the application of capital punishment “can only be imposed for the most serious crimes and after submitting to the strictest controls”.
An argument rejected by human rights organizations. “The death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters, including children of the persecuted Shia minority in the country,” Amnesty International’s research director in the Middle East. A decapitation that now hovers over the bleak future of the little Murtaja.