Saudi Arabia executed 47 people for terrorism on Saturday, including a prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric.
The execution of Nimr al-Nimr has caused outrage among the kingdom’s critics, saying the cleric’s death aims to “set the region on fire.”
The men, 45 Saudis, an Egyptian and a man from Chad, were reportedly killed behind closed doors in prisons across the country
Nimr, along with six others, were accused of orchestrating anti-government protests between 2011 and 2013 in which 20 people died. Earlier this year, the kingdom’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal against the death sentence passed on the Shia cleric.
The brother of the executed cleric said he hopes that any reaction to Nimr al-Nimr’s killing will be peaceful.
“Sheikh Nimr enjoyed high esteem in his community and within Muslim society in general and no doubt there will be reaction,” Mohammed al-Nimr told Reuters by telephone. “We hope that any reactions would be confined to a peaceful framework. No one should have any reaction outside this peaceful framework. Enough bloodshed”
The Interior Ministry statement announcing the executions began with verses from the Koran, justifying the use of the death penalty, while state television showed footage of the aftermath of Al Qaeda attacks over the last decade. Shortly afterward, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh appeared on Saudi Arabian television, hailing the executions as just.
In its statement, the ministry listed the names of all those it said were convicted on charges of terrorism, Al Jazeera reported, including Al-Qaeda-affiliated Faris al-Zahrani, who was once on the list of Saudi Arabia’s “most wanted terrorists.” Last year a Saudi Arabian court sentenced him to death, and ordered his body to be displayed in public after the capital punishment was carried out.
Among those executed were also one Egyptian and one Chadian, the ministry reportedly stated.
The absolutist Sunni Muslim monarchy carried out at least 158 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in two decades, according to human rights groups.
Adam Coolge, Middle east researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AP that Saudi Arabia had executed almost twice as many people in 2015 as the year before. The horrific figure is second only to 1995, when the Gulf kingdom executed 192 people.
Saudi Arabia carries out most executions through beheading and often in public, giving rise to comparisons with terrorist group Islamic State (which also claims to be implementing Shariah law) while carrying out public beheadings.
The Gulf monarchy, however, has rejected parallels with Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL). Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris in December that “it’s easy to say Wahhabism equals Daesh equals terrorism, which is not true,” referring to the Arabic acronym for IS.
The absolutist monarchy argues that its judicial processes require at least 13 judges in three tiers of its courts system to rule in favor of a death sentence before it is carried out. According to Saudi officials, the executions are aimed at curbing crime.