SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 23, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Western Michigan University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Saudi Arabia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 23, 2019, authorities executed Mujtaba al-Sweikat, a Saudi citizen who had been detained since 2012, for participating in Arab Spring-related protests.

On August 12, 2012, authorities detained al-Sweikat at King Fahd International Airport, as he was preparing to travel to Western Michigan University in the United States, where he had been accepted as a student. Authorities charged al-Sweikat with armed disobedience against the king, causing chaos, and other national security-related crimes, in connection with his participation in Arab Spring-related protests. While in custody, Al-Sweikat was reportedly tortured and forced to make false confessions. In August 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court convicted al-Sweikat, based solely on this confession. He reportedly was denied legal counsel during the hearing, and in June 2016, the court sentenced al-Sweikat to death.

On April 23, authorities executed al-Sweikat and 36 other prisoners who had also been convicted of national security-related crimes.

Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the detention, prosecution, sentencing, and execution of a student as part of sweeping measures by state authorities to restrict the right to freedom of expression — rights that are expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from interfering with such conduct, so long as it is carried out peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such conduct undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.