Beirut, Lebanon CNN  — 

Long before Saudi Arabia announced it had carried out one of the largest mass executions in its history earlier this week, some of the men condemned to death had made impassioned pleas to the courts in a bid to save their lives.

Many said they were totally innocent, that their confessions had been written by the same people who had tortured them. Some claimed to have evidence of their abuse at the hands of their interrogators. And one reaffirmed loyalty to King Salman and his son, Mohammed bin Salman, in hopes of getting leniency from the court, trial documents show.

None of these arguments swayed the judges overseeing their trials in 2016, and the suspects were convicted of terror-related crimes and sentenced to death. On Tuesday, Riyadh announced that 37 men had been executed, including three who were minors when the kingdom said they carried out their crimes. One of the men was crucified after his execution, strung up and put on display as a warning to others.

Abdulkareem al-Hawaj

The youngest of the executed men was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, according to Amnesty International. He was charged with participating in violent protests at the age of 16, and his death sentence sparked an outcry from the United Nations, which had urged the kingdom to overturn the ruling.

Another was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was 17 when he took part in demonstrations that would lead to his arrest in 2012. He was detained at an airport in Dammam as he was preparing to board a plane to the United States, where he was set to enroll at Western Michigan University.

Mujtaba al-Sweikat

CNN has obtained hundreds of pages of documents from three 2016 trials involving 25 of the men whose executions were announced this week. Eleven were found guilty of spying on behalf of Iran, the country’s regional nemesis. Another 14 were convicted of forming a “terror cell” during anti-government protests in the largely Shia city of Awamiya in 2011 and 2012. Most of them were from the country’s much-maligned Shia minority.

For the authorities, the trial of those involved in the Awamiya protests was an open and shut case – the men had confessed, and “justice was served,” in the words of one Saudi official to CNN on Tuesday. When the United Nations raised concerns in 2017 that torture had been used to obtain the confessions in that case, the Saudi government responded with a letter denying the claims and stating that the men had stood by their admissions of guilt in court.

But the documents obtained by CNN show that far from owning up to their confessions, some of the men in the Awamiya case repeatedly told the court that the admissions were false and had been obtained through torture. In some cases, the suspects said they had provided nothing more than their thumbprints to sign off on confessions which they claimed had been written by their torturers.

“Those aren’t my words,” said one of the accused, Munir al-Adam, during the trial, according to the documents. “I didn’t write a letter. This is defamation written by the interrogator with his own hand.”

The 27-year-old, who was partially blind and deaf, was named as one of the men executed on Tuesday.

The Saudi government did not immediately respond to several requests for comment on the allegations of torture and forced confessions laid out in the court documents.

In a statement about the executions, a Saudi official told CNN Tuesday: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long ago adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorists who spill the blood of the innocent, threaten the national security of the kingdom and distort our great faith. The convicted criminals who were executed today had their day in court and were found guilty of very serious crimes.”

‘Sowing unrest’

Most of the prisoners who were executed were members of the kingdom’s minority Shia community, which has long protested against the political and economic marginalization of the religious group.

Several of the cases involving those who were executed center on Awamiya, the Shia city in the country’s Eastern Province, where Arab Spring protests took root in 2011. Awamiya was the hometown of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was a leading figure in the province before he was executed by the Saudi government in 2016.

In one of the cases, 24 men were put on trial for alleged crimes related to the protests. Fourteen of them were charged with joining a terror cell, according to a UN report on the case. Those 14 men were on the list of the 37