A group of U.N. experts has joined rights groups in calling on Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a Shiite man convicted of crimes reportedly committed as a teenager during protests inspired by the Arab Spring.
Ali al-Nimr, the nephew of firebrand Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, faces execution by beheading and an additional rare punishment of “crucifixion,” which means publicly displaying the body after death as a warning to others, according to Saudi state media.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?
MR. TONER: I’m not aware of the trial that you—or the verdict—death sentence.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when [he] was 17 years old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he’s been scheduled to be executed.
MR. TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.
QUESTION: So you—
QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s—we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we—
QUESTION: Do you think that they’re an appropriate choice given—I mean, how many pages is—does Saudi Arabia get in the Human Rights Report annually?
MR. TONER: I can’t give that off the top of my head, Matt.
QUESTION: I can’t either, but let’s just say that there’s a lot to write about Saudi Arabia and human rights in that report. I’m just wondering if you [think] that it’s appropriate for them to have a leadership position.
MR. TONER: We have a strong dialogue, obviously a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans, obviously, many issues. We talk about human-rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it’s an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.
So, the United State welcomes the leadership of Saudi Arabia on a body meant to expose the human-rights violations of countries like Saudi Arabia. This is straight-up “Alice in Wonderland” policymaking. There are reasons we are allies with Saudi Arabia, of course, but even Barack Obama has made it clear—even before he was president—that these reasons ought to be scrutinized.
By the way, I’m sure that Saudi Arabia will itself benefit from membership on the Human Rights Council. It will no doubt learn new and exciting torture techniques from its fellow members, some of whom might be able, for reasons of public relations, to guide Saudi Arabia away from crucifixion, and toward less outre forms of punishment.