WMU officials urge Trump: Try to stop Saudi executions

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Western Michigan University leaders are calling on President Donald Trump to intervene in the looming execution of 14 Saudi Arabians — including one man who considered attending WMU — since an appeal of their death sentences failed.

Mujtaba Al-Sweikat attended several pro-democracy protest between 2011 and 2012 in Saudi Arabia, one of the five top executing countries in the world for more than a decade, according to Reprieve U.S., an international human rights group.

He was arrested in December 2012 while getting on a plane to visit WMU. At the time, he was 17 and allegedly was tortured by Saudi officials with cigarette burns and a beating that left his shoulder broken in an effort to get a “confession,” according to Reprieve officials.

Al-Sweikat had been looking at attending college at WMU or in Oregon.

But he was tried and sentenced to death June 1, 2016, for participating in the protests. Saudi Arabia’s high court confirmed his death sentence May 25.

In an unusual move that reflects a response to public pressure, Reprieve officials said, the Specialised Criminal Court — which is the highly secretive terrorism court Al-Sweikat and the others were convicted in — referred the cases to Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court over the weekend for an “appeal.”

The Ministry of Interior indicated the appeal is already finished, meaning all 14 are awaiting the implementation of their executions.

Besides Al-Sweikat, the 13 others who face beheading include at least one juvenile and a young disabled man.

Over the weekend, 116 WMU leaders signed a statement condemning the planned executions.

“As academics and teachers, we take pride in defending the rights of all people, wherever they may be in the world, to speak freely and debate openly without hindrance or fear,” the statement said. “We publicly declare our support for Mujtaba and the thirteen others facing imminent execution. No one should face beheading for expressing beliefs in public protests.

“President Donald J. Trump and other U.S. officials should be robust and vocal in defending freedom of expression the world over,” the statement continued. “If U.S. citizens stay silent as another country attacks this freedom, we undermine the very foundations of democracy.”

They added that Al-Sweikat is still welcome at WMU, where he was approved for English language and pre-finance studies in 2013.

Meanwhile, Reprieve officials said the 14 arrested for protest-related offenses could be executed at ay time.

“These executions are unacceptable – we must not allow them to go ahead,” said a statement on Reprieve’s website. “It is essential that President Trump, who has made close ties with Saudi Arabia a priority for his presidency, condemns these unlawful executions.”