Father of Saudi Teenager on Death Row Suprised By British Foreign Secretary's Comments

Supporters and family of the Saudi man sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion have reacted with confusion to claims made by the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond that he does "not expect" the execution to take place.

Hammond said in the House of Commons on Tuesday that he believed Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr, the Saudi man jailed and condemned to death for attending an anti-government protest as a teenager, would not be executed, prompting some groups to celebrate victory in their battle to have his sentence overturned.

However, rights group Amnesty International has cast doubt on Hammond's comments, saying that there is no basis for him to believe that Al-Nimr would be spared by the Saudi regime.

"As far as we know, Ali Al-Nimr's sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court," says Amnesty's Saudi Arabia researcher Sevag Kechichian in an email to Newsweek. "The only thing that prevents him from being executed is the King declaring that he won't ratify his death sentence or that he pardons him. Unless either of those happens, Ali remains at risk of imminent execution."

Kechichian adds: "We presume that the U.K. government may have had some kind of vague assurance from their Saudi Arabian counterparts, but we can't really speculate on that. Meanwhile, Ali Al-Nimr's family are not going to get any reassurance from Philip Hammond's vague statement."

The e-mail continues: "In fact, on the same day that Hammond was declaring that he does 'not expect that Mr al-Nimr will be executed,' his family had just tweeted that they went to prison to see Ali but were denied access."

Ali's father, Mohammed Al-Nimr, who has previously described the family's torment with their son on death row, is yet to comment directly on Hammond's statement. However in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Mohammed said that his son could be executed "at any moment."

"Usually the Interior Ministry does not notify anyone that they will kill their child ... at a specific time," he said in the interview. "We could at any time turn on the TV or the radio and hear the decision announced there."

The confusion has arisen after Hammond responded to a question from opposition Labour shadow Minister for Human Rights, Andy Slaughter, on the case of Al-Nimr and that of a British man, Karl Andree, who has been sentenced to 360 lashings in Saudi Arabia for being in possession of bottles of homemade wine.

Hammond said: "I do not expect Mr Andree to receive the lashings that he has been sentenced to and I do not expect Mr Al-Nimr to be executed."

Britain's top diplomat added: "As I've said on many occasions previously when I've been asked to comment on these judicial matters in Saudi Arabia in the House, our judgment is that we achieve most by speaking privately and regularly to our Saudi interlocutors."

His confidence that Al-Nimr would not be killed by Saudi authorities was met by jubilation by some supporters, including hacktivist group Anonymous, which has targeted Saudi websites over Nimr's planned execution.

"Ali Mohammed al-Nimr will not be executed. Huge win for. . .the Anons/supports of the operation," wrote a prominent Anonymous account on Twitter.

Al-Nimr's case has been the subject of a campaign by NGOs Amnesty International and Reprieve, as well as British opposition politicians such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The case has also caused divisions within the ruling Conservative government, with Justice Minister Michael Gove successfully pushing for the cancellation of a $9 million deal to train the Saudi regime how to run its prisons last week.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office declined to comment.

Father of Saudi Teenager on Death Row Suprised By British Foreign Secretary's Comments |