Mujtaba al-Sweika, a bright 18-year-old student in Saudi Arabia, was on his way to visit Western Michigan University in 2012 when he was arrested in the airport in Riyadh. He was one of 14, largely young men, arrested for taking part in a protest. Among his charges is starting a Facebook group and posting images of a demonstration online. Another defendant, Ali al Nimr, was charged with setting up a Blackberry page named “The Liberals” and posting photos of the demonstrations, inviting people to participate. All have been sentenced to death. In July, after the Saudi Supreme Court upheld their sentences, the prisoners were moved to the prison is Riyadh where public executions are carried out. The only person who can prevent the executions is King Salman, who must ratify the death sentences. In his absence the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, can ratify the sentences and see that they are carried out. Ten Nobel laureates are sending a letter to King Salman and the Crown Prince asking them to extend the hand of mercy.
Nobel Laureates to Saudi Arabia: The Letter
We the undersigned Nobel Peace Prize Laureates appeal to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman to stay the executions of Mujtaba al-Sweikat and the 13 others who were sentenced to death for participating in protests in Saudi Arabia.
Mujtaba al-Sweikat was 18 years old when arrested. His charges include supervising a group on Facebook and photographing the demonstrations, “which is punishable according to the cybercrime bill.” Another juvenile defendant, Ali al Nimr, was charged with setting up a Blackberry page named “The Liberals” and posting photos of the demonstrations, inviting people to participate. The others sentenced include Munir Adam, a partially deaf and blind 20-year-old man, and two others who were juveniles when sentenced.
There are reportedly individuals in the group who committed acts of violence when the peaceful demonstration turned violent. However, all of the individuals arrested in connection with the demonstration were convicted in a mass trial that failed to distinguish the actions of individual defendants in violation of the norms of justice. All defendants were sentenced based on the actions of the worst defendant, but as examples, neither the offenses of Mujtaba al-Sweikat or Ali al Nimr would individually warrant the death penalty.
In coercing their confessions they were reportedly subjected to physical force, including a beating so severe that Al-Sweikat’s shoulder was broken. In court, the defendants repudiated their confessions. In the appeals process, the allegations of physical coercion were reportedly not investigated. If true, that would violate both international law and Sharia law and further undermine the legitimacy of the trial.
We no longer live in a world where countries, large and small, rich and poor, live as islands unto themselves. With nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide participating in social media and getting news on the Internet, we are more aware of the actions of governments across the world than at any time in history.
All political and community leaders and spiritual leaders of all faiths are being watched every minute of the day, on a scale without precedent in history. They are confronted with the fact that the flame has been lit, that particularly their youth has seen freedom and democracy. The desire has been born to have a voice in their future.
Leaders can no longer act with absolute power and impunity in today’s world or dismiss the voices of their constituency. Events are forcing change. And it is the voices of the young, the voices of peaceful dissent, who, if listened to, will help shape this future.
As you rightly preserve your faith’s wisdom and values, we urge you to stand as just leaders and extend the hand of mercy to these young people, and, by staying these executions, correct a great injustice.
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Former President, Timor-Leste
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, South Africa
LEYMAH GBOWEE, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liberia
JODY WILLIAMS, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, United States of America
KAILASH SATYARTHIA, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, India
SHIRIN EBADI, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Iran
PRESIDENT F.W. DE KLERK, 1993 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Former President, South Africa
LECH WALESA, 1983 Nobel Peace Pize Laureate, Former President, Poland
TAWAKKOL KARMAN, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Yemen
MAIREAD MAGUIRE, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate