NEW YORK—A young man from Saudi Arabia’s minority Shi’ite Muslim community who was arrested at the age of 13 will not be executed and could be released by 2022, a Saudi official told Reuters on Saturday following reports of his pending execution.
Murtaja Qureiris, who was detained in September 2014, has received an initial 12-year prison sentence with time served since his arrest and four years suspended for his young age, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The sentence is subject to appeal.
“He will not be executed,” the official added.
Rights groups including Amnesty International reported this month that the Saudi public prosecutor had sought the death penalty for Qureiris for a series of offenses, some of which they said date back to when he was 10 years old.
Amnesty said in a statement on its website earlier this month that Qureiris was held in solitary confinement upon detention and subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation. The Saudi authorities deny torture allegations and say they do not have political prisoners.
The Shi’ite-majority Eastern Province, where Qureiris is from, became a focal point of unrest in early 2011 with demonstrations calling for an end to discrimination and for reforms.
Saudi Arabia denies any discrimination against Shi’ites. It has said some protests and attacks by Shi’ite demonstrators were instigated by its arch-rival, Iran, which is ruled by Shi’ite clerics.
Fears of confrontation in the region have risen after attacks on two oil tankers on June 13 in the Gulf of Oman, which the United States blamed on Iran. Tehran has denied any role in the strikes south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for oil.
The Saudi official said Qureiris had manufactured and used Molotov cocktails in a series of attacks against police and a pharmacy in which he also used firearms, after being recruited by a terrorist cell.
The official said another attack in which Qureiris participated had targeted a German diplomatic vehicle in Qatif region in January 2014. Nobody was hurt in that incident but the car caught fire.
Qureiris’s trial was in a special court because the Saudi government considers him a member of a terrorist organization. The 18-year-old faced one of the harshest forms of the death penalty in the kingdom—crucifixion or dismemberment after death.
Quereiris has been accused of “sowing sedition,” according to the CNN report, which prosecutors have argued justifies the harshest punishment for the young man, according to the Saudi Arabian kingdoms’s interpretation of Sharia law.
Qureiris is also accused of making Molotov cocktails for his older brother, who was a political activist until he was killed during a protest against the government when Qureiris was 11 years old, The Telegraph reported.
Appalling news from Saudi Arabia – Murtaja Qureiris, arrested aged 13, is facing execution for taking part in protests while he was just 10 years old. Read more: https://t.co/CtDzdy2t4k pic.twitter.com/Lcq9LOxdKQ
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) June 7, 2019
In Saudi Arabia, it is against the law to participate in protests against the government, and the offense is punishable by death. At the time of Qureiris’s arrest, he was considered the youngest political prisoner in the world, according to The Telegraph.
So far in 2019, at least three other prisoners arrested as minors were allegedly executed when they turned 18 years old, the news website reported.
In April alone, 37 men—largely comprised of the Shiite minority—were beheaded in an effort by the Saudi Arabian government to crack down on dissidents. One was said to have been crucified after being executed, which Qureiris could also face.
Exclusive: When Murtaja Qureiris was 10, he led protests demanding rights for Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority. Now, at the age of 18, he faces the death penalty. https://t.co/9Bn1FAW5o1 pic.twitter.com/TMvF7WkGwq
— CNN International (@cnni) June 7, 2019
By Stephen Kalin
Epoch Times reporter Justin Morgan contributed to this article