A total of 47 prisoners were executed in Saudi Arabia, including a well-known Shiite cleric who had criticized the government and sparked protests in the past.

A government statement released Saturday claimed that the executions of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and the other prisoners were aligned with Islamic law and considered a “mercy to the prisoners” because they would no longer commit bad acts, according to the Associated Press.

The move has already sparked tensions within the country’s Shiite minority, a demonstrations in several countries. Human Rights groups condemned the executions, according to the Guardian, describing them as “the most serious crime imaginable.” In a statement, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy described Nimr as “a peaceful reformist that espoused non-violence in his dissent against the government of Saudi Arabia.”

Nimr had called for equality for all Saudi citizens, and led peaceful protests against the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, advocating nonviolence and never carrying weapons.

“The execution of Nimr is not only the most serious crime imaginable against a single person – it is also a crime against human rights, democracy, and human dignity,” Husain Abdulla, executive director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, told the Guardian. “Saudi Arabia was able to commit the crime of executing Nimr because it felt the international community its silent on its gross human rights violations.”

[Images via AP]

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