Young Saudi whose death sentence was commuted leaves jail

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Ali al-Nimr is seen in this undated handout photo

DUBAI – Saudi authorities on Wednesday freed a young Shi’ite Muslim whose death sentence had been commuted to 10 years in prison under recent legislative reforms, his father said in a Twitter post.

Ali Al-Nimr, the nephew of prominent Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr whose 2016 execution sparked demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and Iran, was 17 when he was detained in February 2012 for participating in protests in the country’s Eastern Province.

“Today on the 27th October 2021, my son was released,” his father Mohammed al Nimr said in a series of tweets, in which he thanked friends and family for their support throughout a difficult decade.

He also thanked King Salman for “the historic decision in April 2020 which ruled to stop issuing and implementing death sentences against minors.”

Nimr’s uncle, Jaafar Al Nemer, also tweeted news of his nephew’s release along with a photo of a smiling but tired-looking Nimr sitting in the back of a car.

In February, Saudi’s state-backed Human Rights Commission said that Nimr along with Dawood al-Marhoun and Abdullah al-Zaher — who were 17 and 15 when they were arrested — had their death penalties reduced to 10 years in prison.

The Saudi public prosecutor ordered a review of the death penalties issued against all three following a 2019 decree that individuals sentenced to death for crimes committed while minors would instead serve up to 10 years in juvenile detention centres.

U.N. human rights experts had in March called for the trio to be released, citing allegations of torture and unfair trials. Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied such allegations.

“Our first thoughts are with Ali and his family, who have waited so long for this day, for many years fearing he could be executed at any moment,” said Maya Foa, director of anti-death penalty charity Reprieve which has worked on Nimr’s case for several years.

“We are overjoyed that Ali has been released, but he should never have been sent to prison at all, as his only ‘crime’ was attending protests to demand democratic rights.”

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record came under growing United Nations and Western scrutiny following the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate and the detention of women’s rights activists in 2019.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Christina Fincher)