SHAFAQNA – With the fate of 14 men facing execution in Saudi Arabia hanging in the balance, rights groups and anti-death penalty activists are pushing US President Donald Trump to speak up.
All 14 defendants are Shia Muslims, an oppressed minority in Saudi Arabia, and were sentenced with the death penalty after being unjustly accused of “terror”-related activities. But rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, point out that most of the convictions were based on problematic confessions that the defendants, most of whom are in their twenties, later rejected in court.
But despite pressure from activists, the Trump administration had so far remained silent on their plight.
Maya Foa, the director or UK-based rights group Reprieve, had harsh words for the president, telling ThinkProgress that Trump’s silence on the pending executions is “appalling,” and noted that one of the convicted, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, was a teenager at the time of his arrest. Al-Sweikat was bound for the US where he hoped to study, but was arrested and sentence to execution by beheading for allegedly attending a protest.
Foa also noted that, “Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross doled out praise to the Kingdom for keeping protesters off the streets during the President’s visit,” referencing Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May. Foa said that Ross and the Trump administration in general are “either oblivious or willfully ignorant of the plight of the young students who had been rounded up at pro-democracy protests, brutally beaten, and sentenced to beheading.”
Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA told ThinkProgress that, “The failure to denounce this mass execution is yet another example of the Trump administration turning turned a blind eye to the appalling human rights record of the Saudi government.”
The Persian Gulf Arab kingdom continues be among the top executioners in the world. It executed over 150 people in 2016, and had already executed 66 so far this year, according to Amnesty International.
A group of ten Nobel Peace Prize laureates issued a joint statement urging Saudi to stay the executions. And the American Federation of Teachers had also issued pleas for mercy – to the Saudi ambassador and Trump alike. “We implore President Trump, as the standard-bearer for our great nation, to do everything in his power to stop the atrocities that may otherwise take place in Saudi Arabia,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement last month.