The contrast is as inhumane as it is a commentary on governance in the booming desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Despite the pledge to discontinue the practice of sentencing teenagers, such judgments have resumed with the tacit concurrence of the fractious palace in Riyadh. The contradiction is inexplicable, to say the least. With liberal winds blowing across the desert sands, it beggars belief that teenagers are being sentenced to death for protesting against the intensely theocratic regime. Human rights monitors have recorded no fewer than seven cases in which the death penalty has been sought or handed down or confirmed on appeal for crimes by minors. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who came to power pledging to redefine, so to speak, the kingdom’s image, had two years ago ordered an end to the use of the death penalty ~ or is ‘misuse’ the right word? Mercifully enough, three teenagers whose cases were subject to international appeals, including by British politicians, had their sentences commuted to ten years.
It was later clarified that the change in sentencing would apply only in cases where the death penalty was not mandatory under the interpretation of sharia or Islamic law by the palace. And those included cases involving political crimes such as protesting against the government. Having said that, it needs to be underlined that a young man named Jalal al-Labbad was sentenced to death on 31 July on a welter of charges, including participation in demonstrations, normally a fundamental democratic right. Though he was 21 when he was arrested in 2017, he could not escape the charge of having participated in demonstrations and funeral protests in several previous years, when he was in his teens. On 8 August, the specialized criminal appeals court upheld a death sentence against Abdullah al-Derazi, who was 19 when he was arrested in 2014. The question does survive whether the charges against the man warranted execution, which can be deemed as barbaric even by medieval standards.
What must occasion profound concern within the comity of nations must be that such hideous forms of terminating the existence of a teenaged suspect persists to this day. If indeed participation in demonstrations warrants a death sentence, it must rank as a gross mockery of justice, such as it exists in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is hard not to wonder if the death sentence is reserved primarily for dissident teenagers and must be seen in the context of such “punishments” as decapitation on foreign soil, which was the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The schizophrenia of the state is revealed by contrary trends such as permitting women to drive or inducting them into the shura (governing council), though a curtain separates the genders. The trend towards liberalism ought to be holistic and agreeable. Saudi Arabia showcases a dire contradiction in terms.