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Saudi to execute student accepted to US college and arrested at 17

Mujtabaa al-Sweikat is one of 14 Saudis facing imminent execution for protest-related offences
Saudi Arabia executed 154 people in 2016, according to Human Rights Watch (AFP)

A Saudi student who was accepted to a US university faces execution by beheading for attending anti-government protests.

Mujtabaa al-Sweikat, who was 17 at the time, was arrested on his way to the airport in Dammam in 2013, while trying to travel to the United States to attend college.

Sweikat, who had been accepted to Western Michigan University (WMU), was sentenced to death last year; the verdict was upheld by the country's high court in May. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), on Saturday he was moved to Riyadh, where executions usually take place.

AFT, a union for educators, condemned Sweikat's death sentence, calling on US officials to intervene on the student's behalf.

President Donald Trump visited Riyadh in May. He has repeatedly emphasised ties with Saudi Arabia and personal friendship with its monarch, King Salman.

AFT president Randi Weingarten called the sentence "unthinkable" and a despicable violation of international law.

He added that Sweikat was arrested with others who took part in pro-democracy demonstrations, including a disabled man.

"Should these executions occur, Saudi Arabia should be considered a pariah nation by the world," Weingarten said in a statement. "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."

WMU spokeswoman Cheryl Roland told Middle East Eye that the university is following the situation closely. Sweikat had planned to get a degree in finance, according to Roland.

The university said in a statement that it was “stunned” when it recently learned about Sweikat’s case.

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"The AFT information makes it clear that the critical national political figures with influence in such a situation are informed," the statement reads. "We join the AFT in urging them to use that influence to ask the Saudi government to exhibit compassion."

UK-based rights group Reprieve said Sweikat is one of 14 Saudis facing "imminent" execution for protest-related offences.

The group pointed to a “further escalation of executions” under new Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Among the protesters facing the death sentence is Munir al-Adam, a 23-year-old Saudi who is half-deaf and partially blind, according to Reprieve.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, called on Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May to tell bin Salman "loudly and clearly" that the executions are unacceptable.

“This is an extremely worrying move from the increasingly brutal regime in Saudi Arabia,” Foa said in a statement. “To execute a disabled man and a juvenile protester would be an appalling breach of international law and world leaders cannot stand silently by and let this happen.”

Saudi Arabia executed 154 people in 2016, according to Human Rights Watch.

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