The execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric by Saudi Arabia has provoked a strong reaction by Iran. Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday for alleged terrorism offences.
Iran claims that he was sentenced to death for his outspoken views against the Saudi’s Sunni rulers.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned of “divine revenge” in response.
The Ayatollah tweeted “This oppressed scholar had neither invited people to armed movement, not was involved in covert plots.”
Sheikh Nimr has been a persistent critic of the Sunni royal family that rules Saudi Arabia, and was arrested several times. He alleged that he was beaten by Saudi secret police during one arrest.
46 other people were also executed, causing outrage from many world leaders. It has also sparked several demonstrations, including in Iran, where protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
The angry crowd set fire to the building on Saturday, and were eventually pushed back by police.
Officials said that forty people have been arrested.
Sunday afternoon saw several hundred people gather outside the building in protest.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted a controversial image on his website, comparing the Saudi state with so-called Islamic State. The image shows what appears to be an IS fighter holding a knife above a prisoner, and a Saudi executioner holding a sword above another prisoner. The question, “any differences?” is shown at the top of the image.
— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) January 2, 2016
The Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh said, “the homeland’s security, unity and prestige are non-negotiable” and no “incitement or harm or sedition” should be allowed.
A statement issued by Saudi Arabia claims the 47 men executed committed various crimes, including “calling for chaos and provoking acts of violence, inciting anarchy, and spreading terrorist propaganda.”
David Cameron has been criticised for not publicly commenting on the killings. International human rights group Reprieve said the UK “must not turn a blind eye to such atrocities and must urgently appeal to the kingdom to change course.”
The Foreign Office released a statement on Saturday further stating the UK’s opposition to the death penalty.
— Foreign Office (FCO) (@foreignoffice) January 3, 2016
Peter Tatchell, a leading human rights campaigner, said on Sky News that it was “utterly shameful David Cameron had not yet publicly condemned the kingdom’s actions.”
The EU has released a statement saying the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr raised “serious concerns regarding freedom of expression and the respect of basic civil and political rights” and potentially “enflamed further sectarian tensions.”
— Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) January 2, 2016
Many believe that Saudi Arabia supports the existence of the so-called Islamic State, and are opposed to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.Iran has publicly stated support for Assad’s rule. They have also supported the regime militarily. The Iran backed Lebanese Hezbollah group have been involved in the Syrian Civil war since 2012.
According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia executed 158 people over the last year; the highest number in two decades.