A Saudi Arabian man was set to attend Western Michigan University in 2012, when he was detained by the government. On Tuesday, April 23, he was beheaded by the Saudi government, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Mujtaba al-Sweikat was 17 when he was detained at the King Fahd International Airport in 2012 for allegedly participating in a pro-democracy rally.
al-Sweikat was later charged with involvement in the formation of terrorist cells, spread of chaos, armed disobedience against the king, and of “attack(ing) the security headquarters using explosive bombs, and the killing of a number of security men and… cooperation with hostile parties to the detriment of the supreme interests of the country,” according to a statement.
The future Bronco was one of 37 people executed by Saudi Arabia in a single day. al-Sweikat was convicted based on a confession obtained through torture, according to international human rights organization Reprieve. The organization said in a statement that al-Sweikat was beaten severely during his time in captivity, including on the soles of his feet.
Former University spokesperson Cheryl Roland said in a 2017 interview with the Western Herald that officials at WMU were unaware of this situation until July 2017, when al-Sweikat’s case began to garner media attention.
“It is not unusual for an admitted student to opt out of enrolling at the last minute, so we had no idea there was such a troubling reason behind this student's failure to come to campus,” Roland said.
WMU Political Science professor Jim Butterfield said executions may mean that the royal family is concerned that their hold on Saudi society is more tenuous than it would like.
"The brutal and well-publicized execution of so many for the seemingly mild offense of protesting in public is a sign of how fragile the Saudi leadership believes its political formula to be," Butterfield said. "Ruthless suppression of even minor protests reflects a concern that dissatisfaction and frustration – particularly among youth – could mushroom into a crisis very quickly."
In 2017, a WMU student leader expressed hope that al-Sweikat would one day become a Bronco.
“If Mujtaba gets the chance to come to WMU, he’ll definitely be welcomed with open arms,” they said.
The Saudi kingdom has executed more than 100 people this year.