RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday announced the execution of 47 prisoners accused of terrorism charges, including a Shiite cleric who was a central figure in 2011 Arab Spring-inspired protests in the kingdom.
The killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr may spark new unrest among Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, largely concentrated in the kingdom’s east, and in Bahrain, which has seen low-level violence since 2011 protests by its Shiite majority demanding greater rights from its Sunni monarchy.
The cleric’s name was among a list of the 47 carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. It cited the Interior Ministry for the information. Saudi state television also reported the executions.
Al-Nimr has been a vocal critic of the government of the tiny island nation of Bahrain, where a Sunni-led monarchy harshly suppressed the 2011 Shiite-led protests. Saudi Arabia sent troops to help Bahrain suppress the uprising, fearing it would spread.
Amnesty International has called the verdict against the cleric, who was in his mid-50s, part of a campaign by Saudi authorities to “crush all dissent.”
Before his arrest in 2012, al-Nimr had said the people do not want rulers who kill and carry out injustices against protesters. He was asked at his trial if he disapproves of the Al Saud ruling family.
“If injustice stops against Shiites in the east, then (at that point) I can have a different opinion,” the cleric responded, according to his brother Mohammed, who attended court sessions and spoke to The Associated Press before the verdict.
Al-Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.
Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide.