The European Union has strongly condemned the series of Saudi Arabia’s executions that took place at the beginning of this year. The kingdom executed 47 men convicted of terror-related offenses, carrying weapons and political activism, including the prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, critical of the Saudi ruling class. Brussels warned that his death “has the potential of enflaming further the sectarian tensions that already bring so much damage to the entire region, with dangerous consequences”.
On 2 January, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini expressed the EU’s strong opposition to the use of capital punishment in all circumstances and especially in mass executions. “The specific case of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr raises serious concerns regarding freedom of expression and the respect of basic civil and political rights, to be safeguarded in all cases, also in the framework of the fight against terrorism,” Ms Mogherini commented. Both the United Nations and the United States have supported the Union’s stance, warning that the kingdom risked “exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced”.
Amnesty International commented that Riyadh was using Nimr’s execution “to settle political scores”. On Sunday (3 January), Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties with Iran. Nimr al-Nimr was a dissident Shiite cleric who had participated in anti-government demonstrations in eastern Saudi Arabia where the Shiites had suffered from marginalization. He had criticized Saudi rulers in his sermons as well as Iran for supporting the regime in Syria and exporting terrorism. He was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death in 2014. Other 46 men that were executed with him included those involved in al-Quada attacks in 2003 and 2004.