A senior Iranian official has called on Saudi Arabia to overturn the death penalty handed down to prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
In a Saturday message to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said that a repeal of the verdict will “disappoint” those seeking to sow discord among Muslim sects and will further strengthen Shia-Sunni bonds.
“It is expected that at this juncture [in the Middle East region], where seditions are targeting the very essence of the Islamic Ummah, the reversal of the death sentence would result in the settlement of challenges in the Muslim world”, the message said.
On October 15, Nimr was sentenced to death at the Specialized Criminal Court in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. In reaction to the sentence, people took to streets in the city of Qatif in Eastern Province to condemn the move. There have also been demonstrations in other countries.
The senior Saudi Shia cleric, who was attacked and arrested in July 2012, is accused of delivering anti-regime speeches and defending political prisoners.
On Friday, a senior Iranian cleric warned Saudi Arabia against executing the death sentence.
“We warn Saudi Arabia… that this government will pay a heavy price for a [possible] execution of a Shia cleric,” Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahhedi Kermani told worshippers at the weekly Friday prayers in Tehran.
Human rights activists say the sentence issued for Sheikh Nimr was politically motivated.
Amnesty International has denounced the verdict, calling it “appalling”.