France urges Saudi Arabia to cancel death penalty for young Shi'ite

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 23, 2015 9:38 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - France on Wednesday called on Saudi Arabia 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, who is 18 according to activists, was given the death penalty in May after taking part in protests three years ago for democracy and equal rights in Saudi Arabia's oil-producing Eastern Province.

"France is concerned by 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 ties with Riyadh due to its tough stance on their Shi'ite rival Iran and shared positions on the region's 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-ruled kingdom's minority Shi'ites who say they face entrenched discrimination.

Nimr, who activists said was 17 at the time of his arrest, was also convicted of chanting anti-state slogans in illegal protests and inciting others to demonstrate, state media reported.

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.

A government census in 2001 said there were around a million Saudi Shi'ites. U.S. diplomats in a 2008 embassy cable released by WikiLeaks estimated they represent up to 12 percent of the total Saudi population, which now numbers 20 million.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Dominic Evans)