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Iran, Iraq protest execution of Shiite cleric

January 2, 2016

News of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr’s execution has sparked outrage within Saudi Arabia and beyond. Protestors have called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family, while Shiite leaders have urged action.

Bahrain Protest Hinrichtung Scheich Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabien
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Alfardan

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday amid calls from prominent religious and political figures to break ties with Riyadh.

Al-Abadi expressed "great shock" and warned of the destabilising potential of Nimr's execution.

"Freedom of speech and peaceful opposition are basic human rights granted by divine and international laws. Violating them impacts the region's security, stability and social fabric," al-Abadi said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards said the Saudi royal family would face backlash for Nimr's execution.

"A harsh revenge will strike the Al Saud in the near future and cause the fall of this pro-terrorist, anti-Islamic regime," the group said in a statement posted on the Mehr news agency's website.

Top diplomat summoned

Just hours after Nimr's execution, Iran summoned Saudi Arabia's charge de-affaires in Tehran in protest of the killing.

In summoning Iran's envoy, Saudi Arabia "handed the Iranian ambassador…a stern protest letter over the aggressive Iranian statements on the legal sentences carried out today against terrorists in the kingdom," a statement published by the official SPA news agency read.

Riyadh expressed its “complete rejection of these aggressive statements, which it considers a flagrant interference in the kingdom's affairs.”

“When implementing court rulings, the kingdom does not pay attention to any threats or comments,” Saudi Interior Ministry spokesperson Mansour al-Turki said.

Call for rallies in Gulf

Riyadh this week opened its embassy in Iraq, which had been closed in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

But Nimr's execution on Saturday drew calls from within Iraq for the embassy to remain shuttered, with al-Abadi warning of repercussions for regional security.

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged the Baghdad government to refrain from opening the Saudi embassy. Al-Sadr also called for rallies in Gulf countries and Iraq to protest the sheikh's execution.

"I ask that the Shiites of Saudi Arabia…show courage in responding even through peaceful demonstration, and the same Shiites in the Gulf, so as to deter injustice and government terrorism in the future," he said on his website.

Indien Protest gegen Hinrichtung Scheich Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabien
Students marched through the Iranian city of Qom protesting against Nimr's executionImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/D. Yasin

Fifty-six-year-old Nimr, the driving force behind the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, was executed along with 46 other men, including Shiite activists and Sunnis accused of being involved in al-Qaeda killings, Saudi Arabia's interior ministry said Saturday.

The ministry added those executed had been convicted of adopting radical “takfiri” ideology, joining “terrorist organizations” and implementing various “criminal plots.” All killed were Saudis, except for an Egyptian and a Chadian.

Condemnation of execution

The European Union also expressed concern about possible “dangerous consequences” in a region already fraught with sectarian tensions, several hours after Saudi Arabia summoned Iran's envoy to complain about the cleric's execution.

The EU's Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini warned the execution of the prominent Shiite cleric risked “dangerous consequences” by further inflaming sectarian tensions in the region.

Mogherini then reiterated the bloc's opposition to the death penalty and mass executions, further highlighting that Nimr's case raised questions over freedom of expression and the respect of basic civil and political rights in Saudi Arabia.

“This case has also the potential of inflaming further the sectarian tensions that already bring so much damage to the entire region, with dangerous consequences,” she added.

Berlin's human rights envoy, Christoph Straesser, was also critical.

Students demonstrate against execution

In the Iranian holy city of Qom, seminary students protested against Saudi Arabia's execution of Nimr, the Mehr news agency reported.

Saudi-Arabien Protest gegen Hinrichtung Nimr al-Nimr
Widespread protests led by Iran and Shi'ite allies are taking place across the Gulf regionImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

A photograph published by Mehr showed dozens of men, some of them in the robes and turbans of the Shiite Muslim clergy, marching through the city holding up pictures of the dissident Saudi cleric.

Nimr was executed along with three other Shiites and dozens of alleged members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization on Saturday.

jlw/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)