DUBAI, United Arab Emirates >> A young Saudi man, arrested when he was 13, could face execution for taking part in Shiite-led protests as a child, Amnesty International said.
Murtaja Qureiris, now 18, is on trial for charges that include joining a “terror group” and “sowing sedition”, according to the rights group and CNN, which first reported details of his case in recent days. He was detained in September 2014 and held in solitary confinement for part of that time.
As is typical with cases involving national security, Saudi Arabia has not commented nor made public details of the case.
Concern, however, has grown after the kingdom as recently as April carried out a mass execution of 37 men, most of whom were Shiite. Among those executed was a young Shiite male arrested at age 16, according to Amnesty International. The rights group deemed the trial of some of those executed as “grossly unfair.”
Qureiris is being charged with offenses that involve taking part in protests when he was as young as 10. Another charge relates to his participation at the age of 11 at an anti-government rally that erupted at his older brother’s funeral who was killed while protesting in 2011 during the height of Arab Spring revolts that were roiling other parts of the Middle East.
Minority Shiite protesters in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province launched protests that year to demand equal rights and a greater share of the kingdom’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the east. They complained of poor government services, as well as discrimination from the country’s government-backed ultraconservative Wahhabi clerics and their Sunni followers.
In recent years, as tensions with Shiite-led Iran intensified, the government under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also intensified a crackdown on government critics, particularly Saudi Shiites.
Since 2014, more than 100 Saudi Shiites have been tried before Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism court on vague and wide-ranging charges arising from their opposition to the government, according to Amnesty International. In 2016, the kingdom’s highest profile Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was executed, sparking protests from Pakistan to Iran and the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi-Iran ties have not recovered and the embassy remains shuttered.
Details of Qureiris’ case emerged after CNN reported that Saudi prosecutors sought capital punishment against him back in 2018. Prosecutors argued that his “sowing of sedition” warranted the worst possible punishment, despite that he’s not been charged with loss of life. He has, however, been charged with shooting at security forces and accompanying his brother on a motorcycle ride to a police station in the mostly Shiite town of Awamiya, where the brother allegedly threw a makeshift firebomb at the station.
CNN said Qureiris, whose father and brother are detained, has denied the charges with activists saying his confessions were obtained under duress.