Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Ali al-Nimr's father said that when his son was told about the death sentence, Ali replied: "Father, I’m not the only person in the world who has suffered injustice and been falsely prosecuted." (Photo: Reprieve via the al-Nimr Family)

Ali al-Nimr's father said that when his son was told about the death sentence, Ali replied: "Father, I’m not the only person in the world who has suffered injustice and been falsely prosecuted." (Photo: Reprieve via the al-Nimr Family)

Youth's Imminent Execution Shines Light on 'Cozy' Ties Between Saudis and the West

US and UK governments remain silent as case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr receives worldwide attention and rebuke

Lauren McCauley

The imminent public execution of 21-year-old Saudi activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr has sparked worldwide condemnation while, at the same time, shining a light on what rights groups say is the brutal impunity under which the Saudi Arabian government operates, thanks to its "special relationship" with Western leaders.

The Saudi government sentenced al-Nimr to death by "crucifixion" in May 2014 after advocates say the then-17-year-old was imprisoned and tortured into confessing to a series of anti-government crimes, including sedition, rioting, and "breaking allegiance" to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. With the ruling upheld by an appeals court last week, al-Nimr will be executed as soon as the king ratifies the sentence.

Supporters say that his execution would "violate international law" and that the youth has been unfairly targeted because authorities "dislike" his uncle, the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who has also been sentenced to death.

The case of al-Nimr has received international attention and rebuke.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International, Reprieve, the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, and the United Nations, among others, all issued statements calling for his acquittal. Codepink is holding a protest outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy on Wednesday to denounce the regime's "crackdown on political dissidents," including al-Nimr. And over the weekend, the Anonymous hacktivist collective shut down Saudi government websites in protest of al-Nimr's sentencing.

What's more, the newly elected UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has publicly asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene in the case and boycott the regime by dropping the UK government bid for a Saudi prison contract.

This contract, according to Reprieve attorney Clive Stafford Smith, would hire an arm of the UK's Ministry for Justice to "conduct a training needs analysis for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia prison service staff."

"What does this entail?" Smith asks. "How to torture a juvenile? How to affix him to the cross? How much will [the UK government] be paid, 30 pieces of silver?"

"When will the government learn that to cozy up to despots means that we are on the wrong side of human rights, and ultimately the wrong side of history," Smith adds.

Indeed, the controversy highlights a relationship that human rights observers have for years condemned between Western governments and their Saudi allies.

It was revealed on Tuesday that in 2013 the UK government covertly helped the Saudi government secure a seat at UN Human Rights Council.

As for the U.S., the country's relationship with Saudi Arabia stretches back generations and includes robust oil and weapons trades as well as military backing, including for the ongoing Saudi-led coalition attack on Yemen. In 2014, Saudi Arabia was the number one weapons trading partner with the United States.

Saudi scholar Ali al-Ahmed with the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs said in a statement, "It is ironic that the U.S. government has been so critical of Iranian abuses, but silent about the abuses by its ally Saudi Arabia, which includes sentencing a young man to a medieval form of torture—crucifixion!"

The State Department has so far refused to comment on the case.

In an interview published at U.S. Uncut on Wednesday, al-Nimr's father, Mohamed, said he hopes that Western governments intervene on his son's behalf.

"Many of the governments in the West have a close relationship with the Saudi Arabian government. We hope that they reach out to King Salman and urge him not to sign off on Ali’s execution and encourage him to release Ali," he said. "I hope the governments of the West will take an action in the interest of human rights and call on Saudi Arabia to release Ali."

Mohamed said that when his son was told about the final sentencing, al-Nimr replied: "Father, I’m not the only person in the world who has suffered injustice and been falsely prosecuted."

Voices of support and updates on the case can be found online under the hashtag #alimohammedalnimr.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Utterly Obscene': Just 8 Pfizer and Moderna Investors Became $10 Billion Richer After Omicron Emerged

"Pharma execs and shareholders are making a killing from a crisis they helped to create," said one justice campaigner.

Jon Queally ·


Ilhan Omar Calls Kevin McCarthy 'A Liar and a Coward' for Refusing to Condemn Boebert's Islamophobia

"This is who they are," said the Minnesota Democrat. "And we have to be able to stand up to them. And we have to push them to reckon with the fact their party right now is normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry."

Jon Queally ·


'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo