Saudi Arabia started 2016 by beheading 47 people, mostly for charges of terrorism. The country planned to carry out the mass execution last year, but stalled after international protests.
The highest profile execution was that of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric. Al-Nimr was sentenced to death in 2014, but internal and external tensions caused the government to delay his execution several times. Al-Nimr was accused of corrupting Saudi Arabia’s youth, inciting protests, and exchanging gunfire with the police in 2012.
Al-Nimr’s execution will further agitate Saudi Arabia’s oppressed Shiite Muslim minority, but will also put the country at odds with other nations. Iran’s Shiia government warned that executing al-Nimr “would cost Saudi Arabia dearly.”
Amnesty International was strongly opposed to many of the executions, including that of al-Nimr. The international organization believes that many prisoners confessed to their crimes under torture. Although Saudi Arabia denies the torture allegations, Amnesty’s Middle East researcher, Sevag Kechichian, said that denials “are absolutely not enough when there is clear evidence that points to the contrary.”
Saudi Arabia also executed four Shiite activists for participating in an anti-government protest. Two of the activists were arrested when they were teenagers: Ali al-Ribh and Mohammed al-Shuyokh. Several other prisoners on death row were convicted as teenagers as well, although Saudi Arabia did not execute them yesterday.
The Saudi government has kept both the media and the prisoners’ families in the dark about the young men, only saying that they have not been executed.
Reprieve, an international organization which fights the death penalty worldwide, sad that Saudi Arabia beheaded 157 people last year, the highest number in two decades. The executions followed a year of political unrest in the kingdom.
Featured image via Vocativ