France has denounced Saudi Arabia’s record execution spree of 47 people, saying the move could spark fresh sectarian tensions in the Middle East.
The French foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Paris "deeply deplores Saudi Arabia's execution Saturday of 47 people, including a Shia religious leader (Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr)."
The statement called on regional leaders to “do everything to avoid exacerbating sectarian and religious tensions,” after reports emerged of widespread anger and street protests in various countries over the execution of Sheikh Nimr and other Shia activists.
Known for its close relations with Saudi Arabia, France has moved over the past years to deepen cooperation with Riyadh, with reports in June 2015 suggesting that the two countries sealed military deals worth up to USD 12 billion for the delivery of modern weaponry to the Arab kingdom.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also signed 10 billion euros worth of contracts, mainly in the fields of transport, energy and aerospace, in his mid-October 2015 trip to Riyadh.
Critics say France has not done enough, like Germany and other European governments, in ramping up pressure on Saudi Arabia over its increasing crackdown on the dissent and activists.
Sheikh Nimr had been arrested in 2012 in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s Shia-majority Eastern Province, which was the scene of peaceful anti-regime demonstrations at the time. He had been charged with instigating unrest and undermining the kingdom’s security. Nimr had rejected the charges as baseless.
In 2014, a Saudi court sentenced the clergyman to death, provoking widespread global condemnations. Back then, the UK-based rights body Amnesty International called the sentence “appalling,” saying the verdict should be quashed since it was politically motivated.