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Saudi Arabia: Abdullah al-Zaher, imprisoned as teen, released after nine years

Zaher was captured by Saudi authorities in 2012 and tried on terrorism-related charges, following his participation in anti-government protests
Abdullah al-Zaher, released from Saudi detention, received a death sentence as a minor that was later reduced to 10 years in prison (Screengrab)

Saudi Arabia has freed Abdullah al-Zaher, a citizen who was arrested as a minor and received a death sentence that was later reduced to 10 years in prison for participating in anti-government protests.

Zaher, who hails from the Shiite minority in the east of the country, was captured by Saudi authorities in 2012 and prosecuted on terrorism-related charges, following his participation in anti-government protests in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, which called for social justice and democracy.

Rights groups said that Zaher was released from prison on Sunday.

ALQST, a leading Saudi human rights group said that: "Abdullah al-Zaher was released yesterday following the expiry of his sentence."

Zaher was 16 when he was arrested in 2012, with two other teenage Saudis, Ali al-Nimr and Dawood al-Marhoun, both aged 17 at the time of arrest. All of the teenagers were sentenced to death amid an outcry from human rights groups.

However, in March, the kingdom resentenced three of them and commuted their death sentences to 10 years. Nimr was released late in October. He is the nephew of the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr whom Saudi Arabia executed in 2016, leading to the rupture of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran.

"Abdullah al-Zaher should have never been detained in the first place, but we're glad he's now released and back with his family safely," Amnesty Gulf tweeted, adding that Dawood al-Marhoun, the last Saudi in custody, and "who was also detained as a child, should be released immediately as well."

In April 2020, the authorities said that the kingdom would stop imposing death sentences on people convicted of crimes committed when under the age of 18, stating that "no-one in Saudi Arabia will be executed for a crime committed as a minor".

The reform comes in a country with one of the highest execution rates globally and following the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country's embassy in Istanbul in October 2018. 

According to AFP, more than 60 people have been executed in the kingdom this year.