Five years ago, a future Bronco was on his way to the United States to begin his freshman year, when he was detained at the airport. 17-year-old Mujtaba'a al-Sweikat was accused of protesting, an illegal act in Saudi Arabia, the country he is from.
The promising student was on his way to attend classes at Western Michigan University, when he was detained at the King Fahd International Airport in 2012, for participating in a pro-democracy rally.
Al-Sweikat never showed up for classes that September, far from unusual at WMU and other colleges across the country.
WMU was unaware of the situation, until July 16, spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said in a statement.
“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.
On July 16, Al-Sweikat was transported from detention in Dammam, where he’s been imprisoned for five years, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where executions by beheading customarily take place.
This revelation shocked not only the WMU community, but the national, and international community as well. Reprieve, an international human rights organization, began a petition to call for the release of al-Sweikat, and the 13 other individuals sentenced to death.
The petition highlights the torture and denial of medical care that al-Sweikat has faced, and has nearly 40,000 signatures. It calls on King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad of Saudi Arabia, to cease these imminent executions, that Reprieve calls “an appalling breach of international law.”
Additionally, Reprieve reached out to WMU students, to put together a coalition of Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) standing united against the Saudi’s treatment of Al-Sweikat. The effort was helmed by Austin Santaniello Bucholtz, president of the College Democrats.
“I was completely [horrified] when I first caught wind of what was going on. Not only was Mujtaba around my age, but he was someone who could’ve, and should’ve been my classmate and my friend,” Bucholtz said.
After hearing about the situation, the College Democrats knew it was something they couldn’t ignore. Reprieve suggested the Saudi government could be sensitive to public pressure, so they made their move.
“I put out a call on Facebook, and myself and other members of the Dems started reaching out to other RSOs, and everyone came together within about two days,” Bucholtz said. “We are still getting more RSOs reaching out and wanting to co-sign, so I suspect the list of organizations who are on board will continue to grow.”
The coalition urged President Trump and the US government to “support those exercising their fundamental right to free expression.” There has been no a response from the United States or Saudi governments.
“Best case scenario, we’d love to see Mujtaba released and allowed to continue with his plan to come to Western as well as see the sentences of all the 13 others commuted. No one should lose their life or face torture for peacefully promoting democracy,” Bucholtz said. “The more people we have signing on, the more that we’re talking about this, the higher chance we have for that to happen.”
The response from RSO’s on campus has been overwhelming, with student groups from all corners of the University banding together.
“If Mujtaba gets the chance to come to WMU, he’ll definitely be welcomed with open arms,” Bucholtz said.