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Shiite protesters carry posters of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration outside the Saudi embassy in Sana'a on October 18, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Outrage Follows Saudi Arabia's Execution of Nearly 50 Prisoners

Deirdre Fulton

Saudi Arabia—recently chosen to to head a key United Nations human rights panel—on Saturday executed 47 people convicted of "terrorism," including at least four convicted of offenses related to political protest.

According to Reuters, the executions took place in 12 cities in Saudi Arabia, with four prisons using firing squads and the others beheading.

Among those killed was prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, whom the Guardian reports "had called for pro-democracy demonstrations and whose arrest in 2012 sparked protests in which three people died."

"Nimr," the Guardian added, "had long been regarded as the most vocal Shia leader in the eastern Saudi province of Qatif, willing to publicly criticise the ruling al-Saud family and call for elections. He was, however, careful to avoid calling for violence, analysts say."

The Associated Press noted that "The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is expected to deepen discontent among Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority and heighten sectarian tensions across the region."

The mass execution comes on the heels of a deadly year that saw Saudi Arabia execute more than 150 people, "many of them for non-violent offenses," said Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at international human rights organization Reprieve.

"Today’s appalling news, with nearly 50 executed in a single day, suggests 2016 could be even worse," Foa said on Saturday. "Alarmingly, the Saudi Government is continuing to target those who have called for domestic reform in the kingdom, executing at least four of them today."

What's more, she added, "there are now real concerns that those protesters sentenced to death as children could be next in line to face the swordsman’s blade." According to Reprieve, the list of people executed did not include the names of a number of people sentenced to death as children who are still facing execution—including Ali al Nimr, Sheikh Nimr's nephew; Dawoud al Marhoon; and Abdullah al Zaher, who were also sentenced to death over their alleged involvement in the 2012 anti-government protests, despite having been aged 17, 17, and 15 respectively at the time.

"Saudi Arabia’s allies—including the U.S. and UK—must not turn a blind eye to such atrocities and must urgently appeal to the Kingdom to change course," Foa concluded.

Many echoed that call on social media, highlighting the apparent hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia's seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition that has been dropping bombs in Yemen for more than nine months, killing scores of civilians and destroying critical infrastructure, announced Saturday the end of a ceasefire that had been in place since December 15. 

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