MEPs have passed a resolution with an overwhelming majority urging Saudi King Salman to offer clemency to Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was sentenced to death in August for protesting against the government. He was 17 at the time. Under the terms of the sentence he will be beheaded then crucified.
The case is the latest in a string of human rights controversies involving Saudi Arabia and follows their appointment to a key panel on the United Nation's Human Rights Council.
In a debate in today’s plenary, MEPs from a variety of groups called, in the strongest possible terms, for the sentence to be overturned.
Christos Styliandes, European humanitarian aid and crisis management Commissioner, opened proceedings by highlighting the strong support for the resolution from EU institutions saying, "the case has allowed us to find a broad consensus."
Charles Tannock, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) foreign affairs spokesperson followed, saying the case was only the latest in, "an extensive catalogue of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia."
He argued that the sentence was "not about alleged crimes" but rather part of a "wider sectarian war," citing Al-Nimr's Shiite background.
Richard Howitt, the Socialists and Democrats foreign affairs spokesman, repeated these accusations saying, "As our resolution shows, there is well-founded suspicion that Ali's fate is only because he comes from the family of a Shia cleric, who is himself a dissident in the country."
Ignazio Corrao, a member of Parliament's subcommittee on human rights (DROI), took up the case, drawing attention to Riyadh's existing poor human rights record and the EU's own relationship with the country.
He said, "Saudi Arabia is a country we consider a partner, a country we don't want to condemn. However it is a country with one of the worst records for human rights violations in the world."
He called for immediate EU action saying, "Saudi Arabia is a country which should be condemned and sanctioned," otherwise all the EU's talk on human rights "means nothing."
Howitt began by questioning the Saudi judicial process noting that, "all reports suggest a boy has been sentenced to death as a terrorist based on evidence that has been withheld, a confession signed under duress and trial that has been held in secret."
He added, "it is sickening that my own country's government is bidding to provide services for the very same Saudi prison service which will be responsible for inflicting the death penalty."
Other MEPs, including Mark Demesmaeker, ECR spokesperson on human rights, and Tomáš Zdechovský, a member of the European People's Party, also highlighted how the Saudi government is acting contrary to EU and the UN values.
Demesmaeker said, "these practices are not ones I would associate with a country chairing a key UN council", while Zdechovský added, "the death sentence goes against all our values. We must not turn a blind eye."
Under Saudi law, the execution could take place at any time.