Saudi Arabian officials said Saturday that the government has executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges, including al Qaeda detainees and a prominent Shiite cleric who rallied protesters against the government. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, which has already sparked protests, may deepen discontent among Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority and heighten sectarian tensions across the region. According to Reprieve [advocacy website], two of the four Shiite activists executed were teenagers when they were arrested. According to information released by the Interior Ministry, 45 of those executed [AP report] were Saudi citizens, while one was from Chad and another was from Egypt. The four Shiites who were executed had been convicted in connection with a series of violent protests in which several protesters and police officers were killed, while the executed al Qaeda militants had been convicted of taking part in a wave of deadly attacks that killed foreigners and Saudis. According to the Interior Ministry, the executions took place in Riyadh, and 12 other cities and towns. Nearly all executions carried out in Saudi Arabia are by beheading with a sword. Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence [JURIST report] of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in October 2015.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system has drawn international criticism [JURIST report] for alleged human rights abuses in recent years. In November Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [press release] that Saudi Arabia has executed a record 151 people this year, the highest number since 1995. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90, which would mean that this total number is up by 68 percent. AI said that almost half of all the executions carried out in 2015 were for offenses that are not considered “most serious crimes” under the international human rights laws. Saudi Arabia also reportedly continues to impose the death sentence on individuals under the age of 18, violating child human rights laws. In September a group of UN human rights experts urged authorities [JURIST report] in Saudi Arabia to block the execution [press release] of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr [IBT backgrounder], who was convicted of involvement in the Arab Spring protests when he was 17.