The father of Abdullah al-Zaher, the youngest person currently sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, is calling on the world to help prevent his son’s execution. Zaher was just 15 when he was arrested after attending an anti-government demonstration. Now, at age 19, he could face death by beheading any day. His trial has been condemned as unfair and flawed by human rights organizations, which accuse the government of torturing Zaher to force a confession.
“Please help me save my son from the imminent threat of death,” his father, Hassan al-Zaher, told the Guardian. “He doesn’t deserve to die just because he participated in a protest rally.”
— Terrormonitor.org (@Terror_Monitor) December 19, 2015
Zaher has been accused of “harboring” protesters, participating in demonstrations, possessing firebombs and setting a car on fire. Zaher’s family, as well as Reprieve, a British human rights organization, say he was beaten with an iron rod after his arrest and that he was forced to confess to crimes he did not commit. He was denied the right to consult with a lawyer or with his family.
"Abdullah is said to still wear the visible signs of torture," Reprieve's website said. "His weight has decreased significantly, and his face – particularly his nose – is disfigured."
Zaher is among dozens of activists, many of them young, currently awaiting death sentences. Fifty-two prisoners were described in the government-approved media as being part of an al Qaeda plot to topple the regime. Also sentenced to death was Ali Mohammad Baqir al-Nimr, 17, whose case also is described as “deeply flawed” and unjust by human rights organizations.
Zaher’s father said the family has come forward because they felt there was little else they could do, given that they come from the minority Shiite sect of Islam, and lack a voice in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.
— Amnesty West Gulf (@amnestygulf) December 17, 2015
“My son ... did not fully understand what the people are protesting for,” the father told the Guardian. “He just went there after being invited by a friend. He did not go there with the intention of fighting or opposing the government, in his eyes it was just a simple protest rally.”
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly been accused of carrying out egregious rights abuses, often perpetrated against activists in Shiite-majority areas. Human rights organizations have charged the government with denying citizens basic freedoms and routinely imprisoning political opponents and human rights advocates.
Zaher is being held in solitary confinement in the Asir prison, which is more than 600 miles from his hometown.