A young man was put to death by Saudi Arabia yesterday after an “offensive” photograph was found on his phone following anti-government protests he had taken part in as a teenager.

Mustafa al-Darwish, 26, was executed despite promises from the desert kingdom that the death penalty would no longer apply for offences committed when defendants were children.

As a 17-year-old, he had been caught up in Arab Spring protests among the country’s Shi’ite minority which swept through the Eastern Province region in 2011 and 2012.

Three years later, in 2015, he was arrested with two and accused of a range of offences such as “seeking to disrupt national cohesion through participation in more than 10 riots”.

Mustafa was placed in solitary confinement and his family said he lost conscious several times during brutal interrogation sessions.

The 26-year-old was accused of taking part in riots when he was a child
The 26-year-old was accused of taking part in riots when he was a child

He later said he confessed to the crimes under torture and recanted them in court saying he had only admitted to the offences to make the beatings stop.

Following his conviction he spent six years on Death Row before being executed on Tuesday.

His family, who only discovered he had out to death after reading a news report online, said: “Six years ago, Mustafa was arrested with two of his friends in the streets of Tarout. The police released him without charge but confiscated his phone. We later found that there was a photograph on the phone that offended them.

“Later they called us and told Mustafa to come and collect his phone, but instead of giving it back they detained him and our suffering began. How can they execute a boy because of a photograph on his phone? Since his arrest we have known nothing but pain. It is a living death for the whole family”.

Mustafa said he was tortured into making a confession, which he later recanted
Mustafa said he was tortured into making a confession, which he later recanted

At his subsequent trial the charge sheet made specific reference to a “photograph that was offensive to the security services”.

For the past five years Saudi Arabia has made repeated pledges not to execute anyone for offences committed when they were children.

There was an outcry when, despite the promises, six young such men formed part of a mass execution that saw 37 people put to death on April 23rd 2019.

In April 2020 the Saudi Human Rights Commission announced a Royal Decree extending the Juvenile Law and later insisted that “no one in Saudi Arabia will be executed for a crime committed as a minor”.

In February 2021, the Riyadh authorities told the UN Human Rights Council that “anyone who commits a death-eligible crime as a child” will be subject to “a maximum sentence of ten years in a juvenile institution”.

Mustafa (pictured here as a chid) was 17-years-old when he was caught up in the Arab Spring
Mustafa (pictured here as a chid) was 17-years-old when he was caught up in the Arab Spring

But following Mustafa’s execution campaigners fear that other youngsters, including one who was just 14 at the time of his alleged crimes, could also die.

Reprieve Director Maya Foa said: “It is not enough for Saudi Arabia’s partners to ‘raise human rights issues’, as British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly did on his recent visit to the Kingdom.

“They need to raise specific cases, and make clear that executions for childhood crimes will not be tolerated. Otherwise Abdullah al-Howaiti, arrested aged 14 and sentenced to death at 17, could be next”.