DETROIT, MI — Human rights organizations believe a Saudi national who planned to attend Western Michigan University will be beheaded for participating in peaceful protests.
The American Federation of Teachers learned Saturday that Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat was moved from detention in Dammam to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where executions by beheading “customarily take place.”
According to a July 16 statement from the AFT, al-Sweikat and 13 others were arrested for attending 2011-12 protests against the Saudi Arabian government. He was held in detention in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, since his arrest, and sentenced to death on June 1, 2016.
AFT Michigan President David Hecker called on President Donald Trump to use his relationship with Saudi leaders to stop the executions. The statement did not indicate al-Sweikat’s current status, but stated that his beheading is “imminent.”
“President Trump displayed a close relationship with Saudi leaders during his recent trip to the kingdom,” Heckler said in the statement. “I urge him to use that relationship to plead with the new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to halt the executions.”
WMU Spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said she was made aware of the situation Sunday morning. In 2013, al-Sweikat was admitted to WMU but he never made it into the country.
“We were stunned to learn, for the first time today, of this situation,” Roland said in an email. “It is not unusual for an admitted student to opt out of enrolling at the last minute, so we had no idea there was such a troubling reason behind this student’s failure to come to campus.”
According to the acceptance letter, al-Sweikat planned to study finance.
Roland said WMU joins the AFT in urging “critical national political figures with influence” to ask the Saudi government to prevent the executions.
“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.
al-Sweikat was detained at King Fahd Airport in 2012 on his way to the United States to attend college. According to a report from the Kashmir Observer, he was 17 at the time of his sentencing.
It was originally believed he intended to study at the University of Michigan, but no record of his enrollment was found. Documents obtained by the AFT confirm his acceptance was to WMU.
AFT President Randi Weingarten called the sentence an “unthinkable and despicable violation of international law and basic humanity.”
“People must have a right to speak and associate freely,” Weingarten said. “Should these executions occur, Saudi Arabia should be considered a pariah nation by the world. We implore President Trump, as the standard-bearer for our great nation, to do everything in his power to stop the atrocities that may otherwise take place in Saudi Arabia.”
The American Federation of Teachers is a labor union founded in 1916. It represents 1.6 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.