The change in criminal policy indicates that any individual who was issued the death penalty as a minor will now be sent to a juvenile detention facility for a period no longer than 10 years. The kingdom in 2018 issued a decree that established a 10-year maximum sentence for minors convicted of any offense, except capital crimes, such as murder and terrorism.
It’s unclear when the new changes will take effect.
A royal decree viewed by the Associated Press suggests that possible exceptions may be made for terrorism-related crimes committed by minors, and that punishments will be dropped for individuals who have already served 10 years.
“This is an important day for Saudi Arabia made possible by King Salman and the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman,” Awwad Alawwad, the president of the Human Right Commission, said in a statement accompanying the HRC announcement.
“The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code, and demonstrates the Kingdom's commitment to following through on key reforms across all sectors of our country as part of Vision 2030, directly supervised by the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.”
Vision 2030, which was first announced in 2016, is a set of strategic goals in which the kingdom expects to shift away from its dependence on oil, diversify its economy and build up the country’s public service sectors.
However, despite Saudi Arabia’s attempts to modernize, its track record regarding the death penalty has drawn widespread criticism, even more so following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Most recently, a report published by Amnesty International found that Saudi Arabia carried out a total of 184 executions in 2019, an increase of 35 when compared to figures recorded the year prior. The majority of the executions noted in Amnesty’s report were for murder and drug-related crimes, and at least one individual was executed for a crime committed as a minor.
The move by Saudi officials comes days after the kingdom ditched its practice of flogging in a decision made by the General Commission for the Supreme Court. Rather than flogging, offenders will either be sentenced to prison or issued a fine.
Alawwad stated in the HRC release that both of the changes highlight Saudi Arabia’s continued efforts to implement reforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, adding, “More reforms will be coming.”