On anniversary of Saudi mass execution, families plead for return of their loved ones' remains

The mother of Mujtaba al-Sweikat said she had been denied a proper burial.

LONDON -- It has been exactly one year since 37 people were executed on a single day in Saudi Arabia, prompting outrage from members of Congress, and none of the bodies are known to have been returned to their families, according to human rights activists.

One of those executed that day was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was arrested at King Fahd International Airport as he was about to fly to the U.S. to take up undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan. He was originally arrested in 2012 for allegedly taking part in anti-government demonstrations, according to his case file compiled by the human rights charity Reprieve.

According to the European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), up to six of those executed last year, al-Sweikat included, were arrested for crimes committed when they were teenagers.

In response to the news of his execution last year, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said: “Saudi Arabia's ruler MBS tortures & executes children… At least 3 today were arrested as teenagers & tortured into false confessions. He killed them for attending protests! Think about that.”

Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, told ABC News that the time had come for Saudi Arabia’s Western allies to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its human rights record, in a country where “families are denied the right to mourn, as a reminder to hold their tongues.”

Al-Sweikat’s mother, who did not wish to be named for security reasons, discovered he had been executed on social media, and is now calling for the release of his body to the family so they can have a proper burial.

“We are insisting on recovering the body, because receiving your son's body means to receive your son,” the mother said in correspondence with ESOHR from April 20, which was shared with ABC News. “This is the least possible right that can be given to a family bereaved by the killing of its son. We want to bury him in his land and his hometown in the soil of the land...where he was raised.”

Ali Adubisi, the director of ESOHR, said that the Saudi regime were “sending a message” by withholding the body and denying the family’s right to mourn. Of those executed in April last year, 33 families are confirmed as not receiving the bodies of their loved ones, while the state of the other four bodies is not known, according to ESOHR.

"The execution of six minors in Saudi Arabia in April 2019 was not an act of negligence, nor a human error,” Adubisi said in a statement to ABC News. “It was a deliverable, willful act of callousness, performed on the signature of King Salman and against the demands of a multitude of international actors. It was a crime accomplished with purpose, and what's more, only once link in a chain of endless intimidation and oppression."

In total, 184 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2019. At least 52 people currently are facing the death penalty in the kingdom, 13 of whom were minors either at the time of their arrest, including three men profiled by ABC News last year, or at the date of their alleged crime, Adubisi said.

Last year, the U.S. State Department responded to the executions in a statement. "We urge the government of Saudi Arabia, and all governments, to ensure fair trial guarantees, freedom from arbitrary and extrajudicial detention, transparency, rule of law, and freedom of religion and belief," the statement said.