Five years ago, Saudi student Mujtaba Nader al-Suwayket was getting ready to attend college in the United States. He was accepted as a student at Western Michigan University beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year. He arranged a trip to visit to the university in December 2012, but as he attempted to board his Michigan-bound flight from King Fahd International Airport, Mujtaba was detained by Saudi security forces. Mujtaba and 13 others quickly found themselves facing possible execution for attending a pro-democracy demonstration earlier that year.
The authorities took Mujtaba to the General Directorate of Investigation’s detention facility in Dammam and brutally tortured him until he gave a false confession. Aiming at his head and face, security forces beat Mujtaba with cables, garden hoses, and shoes, and burned his body with lit cigarettes. Mujtaba sustained a broken shoulder from the torture he endured, and now suffers from back and knee pain and stomach inflammation. Yet Saudi prison authorities have also deprived him of medical care.
Throughout the winter of 2012–2013 Mujtaba was held in solitary confinement, with no other intent than to inflict punishment. Mujtaba was denied access to a lawyer, and was not brought before a judge until a year after his detention. Though he had hoped to continue his studies while awaiting trial, authorities refused to let the family send him books. Mujtaba’s family was not even allowed to visit him.
After years in detention, a Saudi court sentenced Mujtaba to death by beheading in June 2016, based on his false confession. On 25 May 2017 the final confirmation of his death sentence was handed down by the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court. He is now at imminent risk of beheading, as the Saudi authorities have stepped up the pace of their executions, killing 10 in just two days this month.
As an admitted student in an American university, the American Federation of Teachers has spoken out against this tragedy. AFT President Randi Weingarten recently stated: “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[.…] 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.” AFT Michigan President David Hecker added: “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.”
Mujtaba was an ambitious young adult whose life was derailed and is at imminent risk of being cut short solely for attending a political demonstration. His sentencing is in blatant disregard of the basic right to freedom of expression that every individual deserves and possesses under law.