Iran, angry over Shiite cleric's death, executes many more prisoners than Saudi Arabia

Iran executes way more people than Saudi Arabia
(Image credit: Twitter/@thei100)

Saudi Arabia's execution Saturday of 47 people, notably Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, sparked a furious reaction from Iran, including threats from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran by angry protesters. Saudi Arabia responded by severing diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday, with Bahrain following suit on Monday. This is a new low in the already rocky relations between the two regional powers, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, but if Iran is angry over the execution of what appears to be a political prisoner, it would seem to have little moral ground from which to criticize.

Iran isn't the only one that thinks the execution was wrong; Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia's executions of 47 prisoners shows its "utter disregard for human rights and life," and that Nimr in particular was "convicted after a political and grossly unfair trial." But in July, the human rights group had harsher words for Iran, saying the Islamic Republic had "executed an astonishing 694 people" in the first six months of 2015.

"Iran's staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the state carrying out premeditated, judicially sanctioned killings on a mass scale," Amnesty International's Said Boumedouha said at the time. "If Iran's authorities maintain this horrifying execution rate we are likely to see more than 1,000 state-sanctioned deaths by the year's end." The group hasn't updated its capital punishment tally for Iran yet, but even in 2014, Iran executed at least three times the number of prisoners as the Saudis, according to this tally from Statista:

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China has not officially weighed in on Nirm's execution, except to deplore how "the relevant event may intensify conflict in the region."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.