U.N. rights experts appeal for Saudi men to be spared

GENEVA, March 12 (Reuters) - U.N. human rights investigators called on Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to halt the imminent execution of seven men they said were sentenced following "unfair trials".

The Arab kingdom has already delayed the execution once, while officials considered requests for a retrial of the group, who were condemned to death in 2009 for their part in a robbery of a jewellery store.

The independent U.N. investigators on extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detentions said on Tuesday they had reports the postponement was about to run out, and the men could be executed as early as Wednesday.

"The charges against all seven persons were allegedly fabricated and all seven were convicted following unfair trials," the U.N. experts said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Families and friends of the seven men have said the crime was committed when most of them were juveniles. Amnesty International quoted the men as saying they were tortured into confessing.

It was the latest case to focus the spotlight on the Saudi legal system, which is based on a strict version of Islamic law, or sharia.

Juan Mendez, special rapporteur on torture, said he was particularly concerned about "allegations that the seven individuals were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in detention and were forced to sign confessions".

The kingdom, which denies practicing torture, has been criticised in the West for its high number of executions, inconsistencies in the application of the law and its use of public beheadings.

But it has never been in the dock for alleged violations at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose main annual four-week session in Geneva ends on March 22.

Information on the trial and imminent execution was received from non-governmental organisations and people in Saudi Arabia, a U.N. official told Reuters, declining to be more specific.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)