Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday it had executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges, including al-Qaeda detainees and a prominent Shiite cleric who rallied protests against the government. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is likely to deepen discontent and spark protests among Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority, largely concentrated in the kingdom's east. Of those executed, 45 were Saudi citizens, one was from Chad, and another was from Egypt. Saudi Arabia said a royal court order was issued to implement the sentences after all appeals had been exhausted. The executions took place in the capital, Riyadh, and 12 other cities and towns, the Interior Ministry statement said. Nearly all executions carried out in Saudi Arabia are by beheading with a sword.
US-based Human Rights Watch criticized the executions. Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director, said "regardless of the crimes allegedly committed, executing prisoners in mass only further stains Saudi Arabia's troubling human rights record." She said al-Nimr was convicted in an "unfair" trial and that his execution "is only adding to the existing sectarian discord and unrest." Before his arrest in 2012, al-Nimr had spoken out against the killing of protesters and other injustices. His nephew Ali, who was arrested when he was 17 is also facing execution, but his name was not among those listed Saturday. (Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, and advertised for more executioners in May.)