Five people who committed crimes in Saudi Arabia as minors have yet to have their death sentences revoked, according to two rights groups, nine months after the kingdom’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced an end to capital punishment for juvenile offenders. The state-backed HRC in April cited a March royal decree by King Salman stipulating that individuals sentenced to death for crimes committed while minors will no longer face execution and would instead serve prison terms of up to 10 years in juvenile detention centers. The statement did not specify a timeline, but in October, in response to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), it said the decree had come into force immediately upon announcement. The decree was never carried on state media nor published in the official gazette as would be normal practice. In December, state news agency SPA published a list of prominent “events” of 2020 featuring several royal decrees, but the death penalty order was not included. Organisations including anti-death penalty group Reprieve, HRW and the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) as well as a group of US lawmakers have raised concerns that loopholes in Saudi law could still allow judges to impose the death sentence on juvenile offenders. One of the five has appealed and eight face charges that could result in execution, said the groups, who follow the cases closely. Reuters established the status of three of the five individuals through HRC statements but could not independently verify the other two. The government’s Center for International Communications (CIC) dismissed the concerns, telling Reuters that the royal decree would be applied retroactively to all cases where an individual was sentenced to death for offenses committed under the age of 18. “The Royal Order issued in March 2020 was put into effect immediately upon its issuance and was circulated to the relevant authorities for instant implementation,” the CIC said in an emailed statement. ALL EYES ON RIYADH Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record came under global scrutiny after the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, is one of the world’s top executioners after Iran and China, rights groups say. Its de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known internationally as MbS, enjoyed strong support from US President Donald Trump. But President-elect Joe Biden, who takes over in the White House later this week, has described the kingdom as a “pariah” for its rights record and said he would take a tougher line. Six US lawmakers wrote to the Saudi embassy in the United States in October urging the kingdom to review all ongoing death penalty cases to identify individuals convicted for crimes committed when they were children, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters. One of the signatories, Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, told Reuters in December that if the kingdom were to follow through on the execution of juvenile offenders, “it would make it even harder for Saudi Arabia to return to the kind of relationships that it wants with the United States.” He added that Biden would be looking at the kingdom’s human rights policies “very differently to Trump”. Biden officials declined to comment for this article, but referred Reuters to an earlier statement saying the new administration would reassess US ties with Saudi Arabia. DISPUTED FIGURES Ali al-Nimr and Dawood al-Marhoun were 17 when they were detained in 2012 on charges related to participating in widespread protests in the Shi’ite-majority Eastern Province. Abdullah al-Zaher was 15 when he was arrested. The three, who are among the five juvenile offenders whose death penalties have yet to be revoked, were sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court and faced beheading, although the public prosecutor ordered a review of their sentences in August. The CIC said the royal decree would be applied to their cases.