Saudi Arabia to behead 7 who were underage when arrested

Juveniles in 2006 when they were accused of armed robbery, the seven men told Amnesty International they were tortured into confessions.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia is scheduled to execute seven men Tuesday for crimes committed when they were juveniles aged under 18, the British-based rights group Amnesty International said.

The seven were sentenced to death in 2009 for an armed robbery in 2006, but Amnesty quoted the men as saying they were tortured into confessions. It said King Abdullah ratified their sentences in February.

"They have since said they were severely beaten, denied food and water, deprived of sleep, forced to remain standing for 24 hours and then forced to sign 'confessions,'" said Amnesty.

A spokesman for the kingdom's Interior Ministry was not immediately able to comment on the report, but has repeatedly said in the past that Saudi Arabia does not practice torture.

The kingdom, which follows a strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law, has been criticized in the West for its high number of executions, inconsistencies in the application of the law and its use of public beheading to carry out death sentences.

The last time the kingdom executed so many people at once was in October 2011, when eight Bangladeshi men were put to death for an armed robbery in which a guard was killed.

DISMAY

The seven are from the southern province of Asir, one of the least developed in the kingdom, the world's top oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia has executed 17 people so far this year, said Amnesty, compared with 82 in 2011 and a similar number last year.

Capital crimes resulting in the death sentence last year included murder, armed robbery, drug smuggling, sorcery and witchcraft.

In January, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed dismay at the beheading of a Sri Lankan maid convicted of murdering a baby.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a 2006 report that it was "deeply alarmed" at the imposition of capital punishment by Saudi judges for crimes committed before the age of 18.

In an interview carried by the Saudi Gazette last week, King Abdullah's son Prince Miteb said the monarch "does not like to see anybody in this situation (of being condemned to death)."

However, Miteb added that Abdullah views Sharia as being "above everybody" and holds judges in high esteem.

In recent years the king, who turns 90 this year, has pushed for reform of Saudi Arabia's judiciary to make sentencing more standardized and improve training for judges, changes that have been fiercely contested by some conservative clerics.

He has also encouraged the families of murder victims to accept blood money instead of insisting on execution.

Reporting by Angus McDowall.

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