UN officials deplore mass executions in Saudi Arabia

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. UN File Photo.

The UN Secretary-General is appealing for calm following the recent execution of a prominent Shia cleric and other prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

The country's authorities announced on Saturday that Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was among 47 people who had been executed for terrorism-related charges.

The incident has sparked condemnation and protests, including the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Iran's capital, Tehran.

The UN human rights chief has also expressed concern over the application of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and the rising number of executions carried out by the Kingdom.

Dianne Penn reports.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for "calm and restraint" in reaction to the execution of the cleric.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr Ban urged regional leaders to work to avoid worsening sectarian tensions.

He also deplored the violent demonstrations against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

Protestors stormed the facility on Saturday, setting fire to the property and breaking furniture.

The UN chief said he had raised the cleric's case with the Saudi authorities on several occasions.

His trial, and the trials of some of the other persons executed, had raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process, according to the Secretary-General.

Mr Ban urged Saudi Arabia to commute all death sentences in line with the growing global movement to abolish the death penalty.

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner has echoed the Secretary-General's appeal.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein encouraged the Saudi Government to impose a moratorium on executions and to work with the UN and other partners on what he called "other strategies to combat terrorism."

Zeid also expressed concern over what he saw as the recent sharp increase in executions in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, 157 people were put to death, compared with 90 in 2014 and lower numbers in previous years, he stated.

The High Commissioner said this was  "a very disturbing development indeed" particularly when considering that some of those executed were accused of non-violent crimes.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 1’47″

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