Presidential candidates silent as Saudis prepare to crucify activist

Presidential candidates silent as Saudis prepare to crucify activist

Saudi Arabia's justice system reportedly has cleared the way for political activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr's crucifixion. No major U.S. presidential candidate has yet weighed in as the looming execution increasingly attracts global attention and outrage.

Critics say al-Nimr's trial was unfair and the punishment grossly disproportionate -- particularly for someone who was a minor at the time of his alleged crimes.

The 21-year-old Shiite from eastern Saudi Arabia is the nephew of a prominent dissident cleric. Both were arrested in 2012 following political protests and later sentenced to death by the fundamentalist Sunni kingdom, along with a handful of others.

U.K.-based advocacy group Reprieve says al-Nimr, arrested when he was 17 years old, was tortured. His father told Agence France-Presse this week his son denies allegations he committed non-political crimes including burglary and throwing Molotov cocktails.

The penalty of crucifixion, recently practiced by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, would reportedly feature decapitation by sword, followed by display of al-Nimr's body on a cross.

Appeals of the sentence were exhausted in early September, clearing the way for execution at any moment, the International Business Times reports. Few options remain for al-Nimr beyond a pardon from King Salman.

On Wednesday and Thursday U.S. News contacted spokespeople for 11 leading Republican presidential candidates and five Democratic candidates about al-Nimr's case. Most did not respond. Those who did were unable to provide comment.

The silence of U.S. presidential candidates perhaps should be unsurprising. Saudi Arabia historically is a U.S. ally and key source of oil imports and philanthropy dollars.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the case Tuesday, pleading ignorance.

But the spokesman, Mark Toner , said the U.S. government "welcome[s]" the recent selection of Saudi Arabia for a leadership role on the U.N. Human Rights Council. "We're close allies," he explained.

Critics frequently point to Saudi Arabia's human rights record as one not to applaud. These include the jailing for 10 years of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, whose pro-democracy postings also earned him 1,000 lashes. The kingdom has killed hundreds of Yemeni civilians with a U.S.-backed bombing campaign against Shiite rebels allied with Yemen's former leader -- a longtime U.S.-Saudi ally -- against his former deputy, who was voted into office in a one-man election.

Saudi Arabia's U.S. embassy did not respond to a request for comment on al-Nimr's case.

Originally published