Iraqi militia condemns Saudi execution of cleric
RIYADH: The latest developments following Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom
An Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq has condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of prominent opposition Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and called on Baghdad to reconsider the re-opening of the Saudi embassy.
In a statement aired on its TV network, Asaib Ahl al-Haq called the execution, which was announced Saturday, a "new crime" carried out by the Saudi royal family.
It called on the Iraqi government to "reconsider the benefit of having a Saudi embassy in Iraq, with a suspicious ambassador and goals."
Saudi Arabia is gearing up to re-open its embassy in Shiite-dominated Iraq for the first time in 25 years. The kingdom closed the embassy in 1990, after Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion of Kuwait.
Al-Nimr, who led anti-government protests by the kingdom's Shiite minority before his arrest in 2012, was among 47 people whose execution was announced by Saudi authorities on Saturday.
An international rights group which works to abolish the death penalty has condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 people, saying two were teenagers when they were detained.
Reprieve says the 47 people whose execution was announced Saturday include four Shiite dissidents.
It says one of the dissidents, Ali al-Ribh, was 18 when he was arrested in 2012, and another, Mohammed al-Shuyokh, was 19.
Both were convicted on charges related to anti-government protests in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is centred. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric and central figure in those protests, was also among those executed.
Reprieve said in a statement that the Saudi government "is continuing to target those who have called for domestic reform in the kingdom."
Saudi Arabia's top cleric has defended the execution of 47 people, calling it a "mercy to the prisoners" because it would save them from committing more evil acts and prevent chaos.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency that the executions announced Saturday were in line with Islamic law and the need to safeguard the kingdom's security.
Islamic scholars around the world hold vastly different views on the application of the death penalty in Shariah law, with Saudi judges adhering to one of the strictest interpretations.
The 47 who were executed included an al-Qaida ideologue as well as Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Shiite cleric who had rallied anti-government protests before his arrest in 2012.
The brother of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition leader who was among 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia, says he is shocked by the move.
Mohammed al-Nimr told The Associated Press by phone Saturday that the executions came as a "big shock" because "we thought the authorities could adopt a political approach to settle matters without bloodshed."
He says the family has not yet been asked to pick up the body but that a funeral would be held as soon as possible.
The execution of al-Nimr was expected to escalate tensions in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the Shiite minority is concentrated, and Bahrain, which has seen years of simmering unrest between its Shiite majority and Saudi-allied Sunni monarchy.
Mohammed al-Nimr said "there will be reactions" but urged people to "adopt peaceful means when expressing their anger."
Iran has strongly condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Shiite cleric.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said Saturday that the execution of al-Nimr, "who had no means other than speech to pursue his political and religious objectives, only shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility." His statement was carried by state-run Press TV.
Saudi Arabia announced the execution of 47 prisoners on Saturday, including al-Qaida militants convicted of deadly attacks and at least four Shiite dissidents.
Al-Nimr, arrested in 2012, was a central figure in demonstrations by the kingdom's Shiite minority calling for greater rights.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are regional rivals, and support opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.