A young man who had been set to attend Western Michigan University prior to his arrest in 2012 was among the 37 people beheaded in Saudi Arabia Tuesday in the largest mass execution in the country in three years.
Mujtaba Nader Abdullah al-Sweikt (also spelled as al-Sweikat) had been accepted as a student at Western Michigan University in 2012, the university confirmed to media outlets.
But later that year, Sweikt was arrested by Saudi officials at King Fahd International Airport when he was on his way to the US to begin his studies at the college, according to Reprieve, a human rights group that focuses on the death penalty.
He was just 17 years old at the time of his arrest.
Sweikt had reportedly attended a pro-democracy rally during the Arab Spring, which led to his arrest, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Sweikt was “severely beaten all over his body, including the soles of his feet,” according to Reprieve. The organization said he was convicted “on the basis of a confession extracted through torture.”
Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry announced Tuesday that it had executed 37 Saudi nationals who were convicted of terrorism-related and anti-government crimes. The ministry also released a list of their names.
In a statement, the ministry said those executed “adopted terrorist and extremist thinking and formed terrorist cells in order to wreak havoc, destabilize security, spread chaos, stir sectarian sedition and harm social stability and security, through attacking security posts using explosives and bombs, that claimed the lives of an array of security men attacked from aback and showing disloyalty by collaborating with hostile parties aiming at demising the ultimate interests of the nation.”
At least three of the individuals executed on Tuesday were minors at the time of their alleged offenses, Reprieve said, calling it “a flagrant violation of international law, which prohibits sentencing juveniles to death.”
Sweikt was among 14 men who were sentenced to death in 2016 after being convicted of a range of charges including “armed rebellion against the ruler” by “participating in shooting at security personnel, security vehicles,” “preparing and using Molotov Cocktail bombs,” “theft and armed robbery,” and “inciting chaos, organizing and participating in riots,” according to Amnesty International.
The 14 men had a “grossly unfair mass trial,” Amnesty International said.
The men told the court that they had been subjected to prolonged pretrial detention and had been tortured and ill-treated during their interrogation to extract their confessions. The judge failed to order investigations into their allegation, and in 2017 the Saudi Arabian supreme court upheld their death sentences.
“Today’s mass execution is a chilling demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities callous disregard for human life,” Lynn Maalouf, the Middle East research director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “It is also yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shi’a minority.”
Saudi Arabia has executed at least 104 people this year; at least 44 of them were foreign nationals, and many were convicted of drug-related offenses, according to Amnesty.
Tuesday’s mass execution was the largest since 2016 when Saudi Arabia killed 47 people on terror-related charges, the Washington Post reported.
BuzzFeed News was unable to reach Western Michigan University for a comment because of a network outage at the university on Thursday.