0655 GMT March 21, 2018
Fears are mounting of the imminent mass execution of the 14 Shia Saudi citizens convicted of charges linked to protests in 2012, including rioting, theft, armed robbery and armed rebellion, AFP reported.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Saudi authorities of coercing confessions which were later retracted in court and of failing to grant fair trials to defendants, including juveniles.
Signed by anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman and former East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta, the letter released late Friday urged King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his son, to "extend the hand of mercy" and refrain from ratifying the death sentences.
"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. Among his charges is starting a Facebook group and posting images of a demonstration online," read the letter.
"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," it added.
The 14 were among 24 defendants in a mass trial known as the “Qatif 24” case. In June 2016, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced the Shia men to death.
The defendants were convicted based on confessions they later repudiated in court. They said the confessions were made under torture.
Saudi media claims that the 24 men were members of a “terrorism cell,” which targeted security forces.
On August 4, the Justice Ministry defended judicial authorities’ handling of the case, arguing that the sentences were reviewed and approved by 13 separate judges.
The ministry, however, did not provide any explanation about the allegations that the confessions were made under torture, and why the judges dismissed the torture reports without any investigation.
Saudi Arabia carried out 153 executions across the kingdom last year. In the most stunning case of executions in 2016, Saudi Arabia executed on January 2 Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 other people in defiance of international calls for the release of the prominent Shia cleric and other jailed political dissidents in the kingdom.