A young man was killed by Saudi Arabia yesterday after an “offensive” photo was found on his phone following anti-government protests he participated in as a teenager.
Mustafa al-Darwish, 26, was executed despite the promise of the desert kingdom that the death penalty would no longer apply to crimes committed as the children of the accused.
As a 17-year-old, he was involved in the Arab Spring protests by the country’s Shiite minority, which swept through the Eastern Province region in 2011 and 2012.
Three years later, in 2015, he was arrested with two people and charged with a number of criminal offenses, such as “disrupting national cohesion by participating in more than 10 rioting”.
Mustafa was placed in solitary confinement and his family said they lost consciousness several times during brutal interrogations.
He later said he had been under torture and revoked the crimes in a court of law because he only admitted the crimes to stop the beating.
After his conviction, he spent six years on death row before being executed on Tuesday.
His family, who only discovered he was dead after reading an online news report, said: “Six years ago Mustafa was arrested on the streets of Tarout with two of his friends. The police released him without charge but confiscated his cell phone. We later found out there was a photo on the phone that offended her.
“Later they called us and told Mustafa to pick up his phone but instead of returning it they locked him up and our suffering began. How can they execute a boy for a picture on his cell phone? Since his arrest, we have only known pain. It is a living death for the whole family ”.
At his subsequent trial, the indictment explicitly referred to a “photo that was offensive to the security services”.
Over the past five years, Saudi Arabia has made repeated promises not to have anyone executed for crimes committed as a child.
There was an outcry when, despite promises, six young men of this type were part of a mass execution that killed 37 people on April 23, 2019.
In April 2020, the Saudi Human Rights Commission announced a royal decree extending the Youth Act and later insisted that “no one in Saudi Arabia will be executed for a crime committed as a minor”.
In February 2021, the Riyadh authorities informed the UN Human Rights Council that “anyone who commits a deathly criminal offense as a child” will be punished with “a maximum of ten years in a youth facility”.
But after Mustafa’s execution, activists fear other youths may also die, including one who was only 14 years old at the time of his alleged crimes.
Grace Director Maya Foa said: “It is not enough for Saudi Arabia’s partners to ‘raise human rights issues’, as British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab allegedly did on his recent visit to the kingdom.
“You need to address specific cases and make it clear that child crime executions will not be tolerated. Otherwise, Abdullah al-Howaiti, arrested at the age of 14 and sentenced to death at 17, could be next ”.