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Execution feared "imminent" for Saudi-Arabian man arrested en-route to visit WMU

The Riyadh, Saudi Arabia skyline
A skyline shot of Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh, where it's believed al-Sweikat and 13 others are being imprisoned and could seen be executed.

A human rights organization says a Saudi-Arabian man who was traveling to visit Western Michigan University when Saudi officials arrested him for allegedly attending pro-democracy protests could soon be executed.

According to the human rights group Reprieve, Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat was detained at a Saudi Arabian airport on his way to visit WMU in 2012, and he’s been imprisoned ever since.

Saudi Arabia’s high court confirmed a death sentence for al-Sweikat in May of this year. Reprieve says al-Sweikat and 13 others were recently transported to the Saudi capital Riyadh, a sign they could be executed soon.

“Since we saw last week 14 executions carried out – which was an uptick in executions in Saudi Arabia – we now have serious concerns that the move of [al-Sweikat] and the 13 others was in anticipation of potentially imminent beheading,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve.

Western Michigan University confirms al-Sweikat was accepted to enroll for the summer term in 2013, but never attended orientation or any classes.

Reprieve and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the AFT Michigan chapter are calling on the U.S. and other governments to intervene with the hopes of preventing the beheadings.

“The U.S. should tell Saudi Arabia to stop the beheadings,” said AFT Michigan President David Hecker. “This is a gross violation of human rights and it needs to stop.”

In a statement issued Sunday, Hecker said President Trump should leverage his relationship with Saudi leaders.

“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 Price Mohammed bin Salman to halt the executions,” Hecker said.

In the same statement AFT national President Randi Weingarten said Saudi Arabia “should be considered a pariah nation by the world,” if the executions take place.

“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,” Weingarten said. “People must have a right to speak and associate freely.”

Hecker says that AFT Michigan has asked several members of Congress, including Senator Gary Peters, D-Michigan, and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, to do what they can to stop the executions.

As of 8:45 a.m. EST on Monday, Reprieve had no further update on the status of al-Sweikat or the 13 others who were moved to Riyadh. Foa says the international human rights group has contacts inside and outside of Saudi Arabia that informed Reprieve about the recent transport of the prisoners.

“The important thing to note about Saudi Arabia, and the troubling thing to note, is that the system is so very opaque – so deliberately opaque – that it’s very hard for anybody to know what’s really going on,” Foa said.

According to Foa, the family of a man who was executed by the Saudi government a little over a year ago only found out about the execution by reading it in a newspaper. She says the family never had a chance to have a funeral and never saw the body.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.