Fourteen men who face being imminently beheaded in Saudi Arabia at the stroke of a pen have raised the plight of the Shia minority in the Sunni kingdom.
The activists were given the death penalty after being convicted of a series of terrorism charges for taking part in protests described by the authorities as an “armed rebellion”.
They had taken to the streets as part of the Arab Spring protests which had swept across Islamic countries in 2011 in a bid to topple despotic leaders and oppressive governments.
Activists in Saudi Arabia say the men who face immediate execution for taking part in the Shia uprising in the country is proof of an on-going crackdown on the minority faith in the country.
Human rights groups said the fourteen, including a student and a disabled man, had been tortured before being enduring a “grossly unfair mass trial”.
The Arab Spring protests in the kingdom erupted in the eastern province of Qatif – a Shia stronghold which has seen violent clashes between government forces and militants in recent months.
Seventeen were left dead in May in one stand-off in the town of Awamiya when the security forces moved into to flush out rebels, with thousands fleeing their homes in the aftermath.
Activists blame the clashes on the government for failing to address the grievances of the Shia minority, and tackling the protests of the Arab Spring with force rather than dialogue.
“Armed individuals are a threat to both sides. A threat to the government and a threat to the community. Getting rid of this threat would be a step forward,” says Waleed Sulais, a campaigner.
The 14 men face being imminently beheaded as soon as the country’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signs-off their death sentences.
The Supreme Court last month gave the men the death penalty for offences including shooting at the security forces, throwing Molotov Cocktail bombs and for organising and taking part in riots.
The Saudi’ justice ministry last week defended the death penalty levelled at the 14 men who took part in the Arab Spring protests despite widespread criticism from human rights groups.
“All accused before the Saudi courts are entitled to fair trials fulfilling all standards, conditions and requirements,” said Mansour al-Ghafari, the ministry’s spokesman.
Amnesty international director of campaigns for the Middle-East Samah Hadid said court documents show the men told the court they were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and were tortured during their interrogation to extract their “confessions”.
One of the fourteen men who faces a beheading includes Mujtaba al-Sowaiket, a student whom police arrested as he was about to board a flight to the U.S. to start university.
Um Mujtaba, his mother, is hoping King Salman, and Mohammed bin Salman, the newly promoted crown prince, will intervene in her son’s case.
She said Mujtaba, who was 17 when he took part in the Arab Spring, had “joined the protest out of a humanitarian motivation, out of his love for his community and his desire for people to have some of their legitimate rights”.
“He has never believed in guns or violence,” she told the Financial Times.
“I appeal to them to let my son leave this place and start the university in the US and make his and our dream come true. We have been dying each passing minute in these five years.”