Prospective Western Michigan University student faces possible execution in Saudi Arabia

Sunday, July 16, 2017 - 4:31pm

The American Federation of Teachers reports that a Saudi Arabian student accepted into Western Michigan University has been sentenced to execution in his home country for participating in protests against the government. According to the press release, the United Nations states the protests have been peaceful. Earlier reports of the case has said the student was accepted into the University of Michigan.

A Facebook post by human rights group Reprieve circulating online discovered called upon University President Mark Schlissel to release a statement.

After the University checked their records, a representative told The Michigan Daily Reprieve discovered that he was actually going to attend WMU.

AFT states the student, Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, was detained at King Fahd Airport in 2012 when he was 17 years old. Friday, he was moved from Dammam to the capital, Riyadh, where executions by beheading has usually taken place.

According to the Facebook post, which is a letter from Reprieve Director Maya Foa, al-Sweikat was sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court “which used confessions extracted through torture as the basis for his conviction and death sentence.”

Foa expanded on the situation in an email. She said President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gov. Rick Snyder should use their ties to Saudi Arabia to stop the executions.  

“The increasingly brutal Saudi Arabian regime has ramped up executions for protest-related offences in recent days, and this latest move is extremely worrying,” she wrote. “Mujtaba was a promising 17-year-old boy on his way to study in Michigan when he was arrested, beaten, and later sentenced to death on the basis of a ‘confession’ extracted through torture. He now faces the imminent threat of beheading along with 14 others, including at least one other juvenile and a young disabled man."

The Daily also received al-Sweikat’s acceptance letter to WMU but was asked not to publish it for the safety of the family. He was admitted into a pre-finance program.

The AFT said al-Sweikat was held in detention since his arrest and was sentenced to death on June 1, 2016. However, it was this May when the high court confirmed the sentence.

WMU spokesperson Cheryl Roland told MLive she found about the situation this morning. She said WMU could not find records related to al-Sweikat.

"It's a deeply troubling story, and we're pleased that AFT has reached out to people in our government who may have influence they can use to ask for compassion for this young man and the others involved," Roland said.

David Hecker’s, president of the Michigan branch of the AFT, also spoke on the issue in the press release. This version include the previous information that al-Sweikat was a prospective University of Michigan student.  

“At this hour, we understand that Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat was a student on his way to the United States to attend the University of Michigan when he was arrested without charges, purportedly for attending a political rally,” Hecker said. “President Trump displayed a close relationship with Saudi leaders during his recent trip to the kingdom. I urge him to use that relationship to plead with the new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to halt the executions.”

AFT President Rani Weingarten similarly reached out to President Donald Trump in the release.

“Saudi Arabia’s threat to behead its own citizens for attending an anti-government protest is an unthinkable and despicable violation of international law and basic humanity,” she said. “People must have a right to speak and associate freely. Should these executions occur, Saudi Arabia should be considered a pariah nation by the world.”

This article is a developing story. Check back at the michigandaily.com for more information.