08/14/2017, 14.14
SAUDI ARABIA
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Nobel Laureates write to the Saudi king asking him to halt the execution of 14 Shia activists

The accused were arrested in 2012 during the Arab Spring. Activists and civil society groups warn that the execution is imminent. Pleaders ask Salman to show a merciful face and correct a great injustice. The ultraconservative kingdom has one of the world's highest rates of execution.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Ten Nobel laureates have written an open letter calling on Saudi authorities to hold off the execution of 14 Shias convicted of crimes committed during street protests in 2012, including rioting, theft, armed robbery, and armed rebellion.

Activists and civil society groups fear their imminent mass execution. In the past, human rights groups accused Saudi authorities of coercing confessions, which were later retracted in court, and failing to grant fair trials to defendants, including juveniles.

Anti-Apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi and former East Timor president and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta are among the people who signed the letter addressed to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his son, asking them to stay the executioner’s hands, refrain from ratifying the death sentences, and correct a great injustice.

Among the 14, all minority Shia Muslims, is Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was detained at a Saudi airport on his way to the United States to attend Western Michigan University.

Al-Sweikat was 18 when he was arrested and his shoulder was broken as he was being coerced into confession.

The American Federation of Teachers has called on US President Donald Trump to demand that Saudi Arabia halt the execution of al-Sweikat and the 13 others.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest rates of execution. This year alone, it has executed 75 people so far.

In July, the supreme court upheld the death penalty for the 14 men, all Saudi citizens. The sentences must be ratified by the king or the crown prince for the executions to go ahead.

A spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Justice, Mansour al-Qafari, said in a statement that all defendants in Saudi Arabia receive due process.

The defendants all come from the eastern province of Qatif, where most of the Shia community lives. For many Sunnis, Shias are apostates and allied with the kingdom’s rival, Iran.

For their part, Saudi Shia leaders have repeatedly accused the authorities of persecution and marginalisation. The eastern part of Saudi Arabia is also where most of Saudi oil fields are located. (DS)

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