Execution of Nimr al-Nimr
Shaykh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was a prominent Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia who was beheaded on 2 January 2016, one of 47 people executed that day for terrorism offences. Others executed included Sunnis who had been convicted of involvement in terror attacks linked to al-Qaeda which took place in 2003. News of the killings triggered international demonstrations, and condemnation by nations, supranational organisations, and human rights groups.
In October 2014, Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court approved a death sentence for Nimr for disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife, and encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations. According to sources, the main charge was his criticism of Saudi's officials. On 2 January 2016, Saudi Arabia government executed 47 prisoners and declared that Nimr had been among them.
Protests were held after Nimr's execution in many cities of world such as London, Tehran, Chicago, Toronto, Iranian holy cities of Qom and Mashhad, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India's Jammu and Kashmir state, Turkey, and in front of the Saudi Embassy in Athens, Greece Washington, United States, and Canberra, Australia.
On 2 January, the day of the execution, protesters gathered outside Tehran's Saudi embassy, shouting "death to Al Saud". The embassy was on fire after a Molotov cocktail had been thrown at it. The protests continued beyond 3 am. The embassy was empty during the protests. Police donned riot gear and arrested 40 people during the incident. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has appealed for calm and to respect diplomatic premises, The day after, protests were held again by hundreds of Iranians in Tehran, and President Rouhani called the damage on embassy "by no means justifiable". Elsewhere, there were protests in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
Hundreds of people held a protest rally in the Bahraini capital, Manama. Demonstrators carrying pictures of Sheikh Nimr were involved in a clash with police in the Bahraini village of Abu-Saiba. Hundreds also marched in al-Daih and Sitra, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia's ruling Al Saud family and the Sunni family ruling Bahrain, and calling Nimr "our martyr".
In the Indian city of Srinagar, the capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, people protested using anti-Saudi banners. The protesters were marching towards the UN office at Sonawar, only to be intercepted by the police. Similar protests were held in the Kargil district, where religious organisations called for three days of mourning.
On 5 January 2016 a Candlelight vigil was held in Ladakh by Buddhist, Christian and Muslim (Shia & Sunni) communities of Leh and Kargil to demonstrate their solidarity with human rights and voice against execution of Sheikh Nimr.
Boustan Street in Tehran was renamed Nimr Baqir al-Nimr Street soon after the execution.
Reactions of religious and political figures
- Saudi Arabia
- Sheikh Nimr's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, said that the pro-democracy movement in Saudi Arabia would only be strengthened after this execution. He described his brother as "a humble, religious man who lived a simple life, making him attractive to many youths", and that his execution "will spark anger of (Shia) youths", and said he hoped any response would be peaceful.
- Saudi Arabia summoned the Iranian ambassador in Riyadh over Iran's "hostile" remarks after the execution.
- Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.
- United Nations
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his dismay over the execution of Nimr. Statements also revealed that the Secretary-General had raised the case of Sheikh al-Nimr with the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions. Ban Ki-Moon also called the Saudi breaking of diplomatic ties with Iran "deeply worrying".
- The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein decried the execution of al-Nimr as a "disturbing development", since he had not committed a crime that belonged to the category of "most serious crimes" under international law, adding that the death penalty could only be handed down with stringent respect of due process and fair trial guarantees, and full transparency throughout the process.
- European Union
In other countries
- Canada denounced the execution.
- The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Egypt condemned attacks against the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad in Iran.
- Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Loza condemned "threats" against Saudi Arabia for enforcing its domestic law on a Saudi citizen to defend national security.
- The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Egypt will stand with Saudi Arabia against Iranian meddling with Riyadh and other Arab countries’ domestic affairs, he added that diplomatic relations will continue to be severed with Iran "for well-known reasons."
- Supreme Leader Ali Khameni tweeted that "[a]wakening is not suppressible", and compared the Saudi government to the ISIL, also infamous for its mass executions. Khameni's website carried a picture of a Saudi executioner next to notorious Islamic State executioner Jihadi John, with the caption "Any differences?" He warned the Saudi government that they will encounter "divine vengeance" for this execution. On a speech a day after the execution, he said the religious leader "neither invited people to take up arms nor hatched covert plots. The only thing he did was public criticism".
- President Hassan Rouhani called Saudi Arabia's "non-Islamic and inhuman" execution of al-Nimr in line with Riyadh's sectarian policies that aim to spread terrorism and extremism, saying the execution violates "human rights and Islamic values".
- The speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani said the execution will prompt a "maelstrom" in Saudi Arabia. Iranian lawmakers asked the Foreign Ministry to downgrade diplomatic ties with the Saudi government.
- Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi Arabian chargé d'affaires. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said the execution of Sheikh Nimr "who had no means other than speech to pursue his political and religious objectives only shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility". He said that the Saudi government "supports terrorist movements and extremists, but confronts domestic critics with oppression and execution". Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also condemned the execution.
- The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) condemned the execution, comparing the attitude and actions to those of ISIL. IRGC said "harsh revenge" would topple "this pro-terrorist, anti-Islamic regime". Saudi Arabia summoned the Iranian ambassador in response.
- Both high-ranking Shia and Sunni clerics of Iran condemned the execution. Shia marja Naser Makarem Shirazi called it "deeply shocking" and called the Saudi government "the center for spreading sedition and Takfiri ideology". Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpaygani said the execution "once again showed the criminal nature" of the Al Saud regime and that it paves the way for the regime's fall. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Noori Hamedani urged all Shia and Sunni Muslims to react against the incident. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts and Friday prayer Imam, predicted the fall of Saudi Arabia's ruling family following the execution. Ayatollah Abbas Kaabi, Seyed Mohammad Vaez Mousavi and Ayatollah Hassan Mamdouhi also condemned the executions, underlining that "Saudis has dug its own grave". Ayatollah Hosseini Bushehri, the head of Qom Seminary Schools, announced that large number of clerics and seminary school students of Qom will close their teachings sessions on Sunday. Sunni clerics, including the representative of Iran's Sunni-populated Southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan at the Assembly of Experts, Chairman of the Sunni Lawmakers' Fraction at the Iranian parliament Abed Fattahi, Molawi Abdolhamid Ismailzehi (the Friday prayers leader of Iran's Southeastern city of Zahedan) also condemned the execution. Iranian seminaries held a protest rally in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and condemned execution of the Shiite cleric by chanting "death to Al Saud". A group of Iranian clerics and seminary students have also held demonstrations in Qom and Mashhad the day after.
- Locals in Tehran gathered outside the Saudi diplomatic mission to protest the execution. Crowds attacked Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, which set off a fire, while chanting "death to Al Saud". Police donned riot gear and arrested 40 people during the incident. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has appealed for calm and to respect diplomatic premises, The day after, protests were held again by hundreds of Iranians in Tehran, and President Rouhani called the damage on embassy "by no means justifiable". Elsewhere, there were protests in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the execution would have repercussions on regional security.
- The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shia political party, and several Iraqi Shia MPs condemned the execution.
- Former Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki said that his countrymen "strongly condemn these detestable sectarian practices" and said that this "crime" will be the downfall of the Saudi government, just as "the crime of executing the martyr al-Sadr did to Saddam".
- In Iraq, prominent religious and political figures demanded that Iraqi-Saudi ties be severed.
- Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called the execution an "aggression".
- Moqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric, called for demonstrations to take place in Arab states of the Persian Gulf to protest the execution of al-Nimr.
- Head of the Badr Organization, Qasim al-Araji, said "it's a big crime that has opened the gates of hell", calling on Baghdad to cut diplomatic ties "immediately".
- Asaib Ahl al-Haq, another Iran-backed militia group, has accused Saudi Arabia of seeking to provoke Sunni-Shiite strife, adding that "What [is] the use of having a Saudi embassy in Iraq?"
- Kataib Hezbollah's leader, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, described the execution of al-Nimr as "a crime that is added to the criminal record of Al Saud".
- The board of Fatwas of Iraqi Sunnis condemned the execution in a statement, adding that Saudi Arabia should account for "igniting the fire of new discord in the Muslim world".
- Hezbollah said the execution amounted to assassination, describing Sheikh Nimr as a spiritual scholar who always sought dialogue and resisted injustice.
- Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address the execution will not be taken lightly, calling the House of Saud "the main source and the launching pad for Takfiri ideology".
- Lebanon's Supreme Islamic Shia Council called the execution of al-Nimr "an execution of reason, moderation and dialogue" and a "grave mistake".
- Peaceful protests occurred.
- Sudan joined Saudi Arabia and broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.
- United Kingdom
- Britain's Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, described the execution as "profoundly wrong", and condemned the act of execution in general.
- The Liberal Democrats leader, Tim Farron, stated: "I utterly condemn Saudi Arabia for the execution of 47 people including the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Capital punishment is utterly abhorrent and the prime minister needs to turn round to our 'ally' and tell them capital punishment is wrong. Britain must live our values and criticise nations like Saudi Arabia that continue this heinous and barbarous punishment."
- United States
- United States Department of State spokesman John Kirby called on Saudi Arabia to respect human rights and permit peaceful dissent.
- An anonymous official talking to the Washington Post said: "There are larger repercussions than just the reaction to these executions," including damage to "counter-ISIL initiatives as well as the Syrian peace process".
- Human Rights Watch said the executions "further stain Saudi Arabia's troubling human rights record". Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director, said Nimr was convicted in an unfair trial and that his execution was "only adding to the existing sectarian discord and unrest", adding that "Saudi Arabia's path to stability in the Eastern Province lies in ending systematic discrimination against Shia citizens, not in executions".
- Amnesty International called Sheikh Nimr's trial political, grossly unfair, and stated that the execution was to settle political scores.
- Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider that "Saudi Arabia is in serious trouble and they know it", concluding that by cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia "wants to make regional tensions an Iran story, which helps them domestically".
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