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7 Saudis appeal for last-minute help to stop executions

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

Speaking over a smuggled cellphone from his prison cell, one of seven Saudis set to be put to death on Tuesday by crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery appealed for help to stop the executions.

Nasser al-Qahtani said from Abha General prison on Monday that he was arrested as part of 23-member ring that stole from jewelry stores in 2004 and 2005. He said they were tortured to confess and had no access to lawyers.

“I killed no one. I didn't have weapons while robbing the store, but the police tortured me, beat me up and threatened to assault my mother to extract confessions that I had a weapon with me while I was only 15,” he said. “We don't deserve death.”

A leading human rights group added its appeal to Saudi authorities to stop the executions.

Al-Qahtani, now 24, said he and the most of the ring were juveniles at the time of the thefts. They were arrested in 2006. The seven received death sentences in 2009, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported then.

Last Saturday, he said, Saudi King Abdullah ratified the death sentences and sent them to Abha. Authorities determined the methods.

The main defendant, Sarhan al-Mashayeh, is to be crucified for three days. The others are to face firing squads.

Al-Qahtani faced a judge three times during eight years in detention. He said that the judge didn't assign a lawyer to defend them and didn't listen to complains of torture.

“We showed him the marks of torture and beating, but he didn't listen,” he said. “I am talking to you now, and my relatives are telling me that the soil is prepared for our executions tomorrow,” he said, referring to the place where he will be standing to be fired at.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law under which people convicted of murder, rape or armed robbery can be executed, usually by sword.

Several people were reported crucified in Saudi Arabia last year. Human rights groups have condemned crucifixions in the past, including cases in which people are beheaded and then crucified. In 2009, Amnesty International condemned such an execution as “the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

Abha is located deep in the southwestern province of Asir. Southerners face systematic discrimination, and people there are perceived as second-class citizens compared to those in the most powerful central region, where the capital and Saudi Arabia's holy shrines of Mecca and Medina are located.

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