A Saudi man who was arrested before flying to the United States to begin college in Michigan now faces “imminent beheading” for attending anti-government protests, officials say.
Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat was accepted to Western Michigan University and was slated to begin classes in 2012 when he was arrested at an airport in Saudi Arabia, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
“Yesterday, the AFT and AFT Michigan learned that Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, who was detained at King Fahd Airport in 2012 on his way to the United States to attend college, was moved from detention in Dammam to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where executions by beheading customarily take place,” Randi Weingarten and David Hecker, of the AFT, said in a joint statement. “Mujtaba’a and others were arrested for attending a peaceful, anti-government protest, for which they were sentenced to death, a despicable violation of international law and basic humanity.”
The AFT has asked that President Donald Trump, noting his “close relationship with Saudi leaders,” demand a halt to the impending executions.
Cheryl Roland, the executive director of university relations at Western Michigan, said in an email that it’s not unusual for an admitted student to opt out of enrolling at the last minute, so the university had no idea there was “such a troubling reason” behind al-Sweikat’s failure to appear on campus.
“The AFT information makes it clear that the critical national political figures with influence in such a situation are informed,” a statement from the university reads. “We join the AFT in urging them to use that influence to ask the Saudi government to exhibit compassion.”
The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Last May, Trump signed a nearly $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on his inaugural foreign trip as president. He focused mainly on the joint efforts of the U.S. and its Middle East allies to combat extremism.
"America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens," Trump said at the time, NBC News reported. "We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all."
The group of 13 prisoners condemned to death along with al-Sweikat include a disabled man and several others who were children at the time of their alleged offenses, according to UK-based human rights group Reprieve.
The Saudi embassy did not respond to request for comment.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, leaned on Prime Minister Theresa May in a statement, saying there was “deafening silence” on the issue.
“The Prime Minister needs to use her visits to the kingdom and deepening ties with its leaders to promote reform, not just tout for trade,” Foa said. “Theresa May must now pick up the phone to King Salman and the new Crown Prince, make clear that the UK opposes the beheading of children and protesters like Mujtaba and Munir, and call for an immediate halt to the 14 imminent executions.”
Of the world's 1,032 total executions in 2017, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan put the most people to death, according to a recent Amnesty International report.
al-Sweikat reportedly planned to study finance.