Iran’s Rouhani: Saudis shouldn’t behead critics
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Iran’s Rouhani: Saudis shouldn’t behead critics

As war of words over executed Shiite cleric heats up, Iranian leader snipes at kingdom’s methods of capital punishment

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani briefs media in Tehran, Iran, September 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani briefs media in Tehran, Iran, September 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — Saudi Arabia cannot respond to criticism of its regime by cutting off heads, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday following Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

“One does not respond to criticism by cutting off heads,” Rouhani said as he welcomed visiting Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen.

“I hope that European countries who always react on human rights matters will meet their duties.”

He was referring to the execution for “terrorism” Saturday of Nimr al-Nimr, who had been behind anti-government protests among Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Muslim minority.

Iranian women gather during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, at Imam Hossein Square in the capital Tehran, January 4, 2016. (AFP/ ATTA KENARE)
Iranian women gather during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, at Imam Hossein Square in the capital Tehran, January 4, 2016. (AFP/ ATTA KENARE)

Officials have never said how Nimr was put to death, but beheading by the sword is common in the conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom.

At the same time, Rouhani said: “Saudi Arabia cannot cover its crime of having cut off the head of a cleric by cutting relations” with Iran.

Protesters angered over Nimr’s execution attacked and burned the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in the northeastern city of Mashhad, which prompted Riyadh to sever diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic.

Earlier Tuesday, Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said the cutting of diplomatic ties would not hurt Iran or damage its development.

Bahrain and Sudan also broke diplomatic relations with Iran, and a number of other Arab countries have recalled their envoys, in sympathy with Riyadh.

The deterioration of relations with Saudi Arabia “will have no impact on Iran’s national development,” Nobakht said, without elaborating.

Instead, “it is Saudi Arabia that will suffer”, Nobakht said.

The spokesman also reiterated Tehran’s harsh criticism of Nimr’s execution.

“We condemn the inhumane, barbaric and Daesh-like execution of the cleric Sheikh Nimr,” said Nobakht, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Riyadh is trying to compensate for its political failures in regional conflicts, according to Nobakht.

“This is a reaction to their failures in Iraq, Syria, and… Yemen, which Saudi Arabia wants to compensate for”, he said, without elaborating.

Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni Muslim power in the Middle East, and Shiite power Iran have long competed for influence in the region. Even before Nimr’s execution, relations were strained over the two nations’ backing opposing factions in those three countries.

Nobakht also criticized the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic missions, saying they were unbecoming of Iranians.

They “had no justification in accordance with religious teachings or the point of view of international rules”, and were “beneath the Iranian people”, he said.

Rouhani and other Iranian officials condemned the attacks, and more than 40 people have been arrested in connection with them.

Nobakht also compared Riyadh’s “immature reaction” to the attacks with Iran’s “restraint” after 464 of the country’s pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the annual hajj near Mecca in September.

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