PARIS (Reuters) - France called on Saudi Arabia on Wednesday not to execute a Shi’ite Muslim sentenced to death over his role in anti-government protests, saying he was a minor when he was arrested.
Ali al-Nimr was given the death penalty in May after taking part in demonstrations three years ago for democracy and equal rights in Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing Eastern Province.
“France is concerned about the situation of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was sentenced to death even though he was a minor at the time of the events,” Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said. “Opposed to the death penalty in all cases and circumstances, we call for the execution to be called off.”
France does not usually comment on death penalty cases in Saudi Arabia due to their frequency. It has nurtured strong relations with Riyadh due to its tough stance on their Shi’ite rival Iran and shared positions on Middle East conflicts.
The French statement came a day after United Nations rights experts called on Riyadh to halt Nimr’s “imminent execution”
Nimr was convicted of sedition, rioting, protesting and robbery in the Eastern Province district of Qatif, home to many of the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom’s minority Shi’ites, who say they face entrenched discrimination.
Nimr, who activists said was 17 at the time of his arrest in 2012, was also convicted of chanting anti-state slogans in illegal protests and inciting others to demonstrate, according to state media.
“Saudi Arabia’s plans to behead and crucify someone arrested as a child are indefensible,” said Donald Campbell, spokesman for international human rights charity Reprieve.
“The international community – particularly Saudi Arabia’s close allies, the UK and the U.S. – must stand with the French government and U.N. experts against this outrage, and call on the Saudi authorities to put a halt to this unjustified killing.”
The conviction of Nimr, a nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’ite cleric who is also on trial, followed that of Rida al-Rubh, 26, the son of another cleric who has been critical of the authorities.
The clerics are part of a group of around a dozen defendants on trial for their part in protests and violent unrest in Qatif, particularly in the village of Awamiya, where police officers and facilities have been attacked.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich