Saudia Arabia brought in the new year with a mass execution of 47 people on January 2. Most were claimed to have been al-Qaeda members, but also a prominent Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was on the gruesome list according to a Saudi Interior Ministry statement broadcast on state television.
The execution of a Shi’a cleric drew strong responses from the Shi’a communities in Lebanon, Yemen, and of course Iran. In Bahrain, which has a large Shi’a population, there were demonstrations.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari accused Riyadh of hypocrisy. “The Saudi government supports terrorists and takfiri [radical Sunni] extremists, while executing and suppressing critics inside the country,” he said on Iranian state news agency according to the Guardian.
The Supreme Islamic Shi’a Council in Lebanon called the execution a “grave mistake” and Yemen’s Houthi movement called it “flagrant violation of human rights.”
Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told the Mehr news agency: “I have no doubt that this pure blood will stain the collar of the House of Saud and wipe them from the pages of history. The crime of executing Sheikh Nimr is part of a criminal pattern by this treacherous family … the Islamic world is expected to cry out and denounce this infamous regime as much as it can.”
The Saudi Interior Ministry statement justified the executions by quoting from the Koran. Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh appeared on television soon after to describe the executions as just.
Starting the new year with 47 executions promises to make 2016 a record year. In all of 2015 there were 157 executions.