MOSCOW, October 17 (RIA Novosti) - Saudi Arabia will pay a "heavy price" if they pursue a death sentence for the prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a senior Iranian religious figure warned Friday, as quoted by Press TV.
"The execution of this cleric will have tough consequences and you [Saudi Arabia] will pay a heavy price," Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami was quoted as saying by the news outlet, while addressing worshippers in Tehran during weekly Friday prayers.
Ayatollah Khatami further reproached human rights groups for not protesting against the death sentence passed down to Nimr on Wednesday at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh for anti-regime speeches and defending political prisoners.
"Why human rights officials, who criticize death sentences for [convicted] murderers in the Islamic Republic's establishment, have not voiced any protest against this verdict? Isn't it the true meaning of the human rights they are pursuing?" the Ayatollah was quoted as saying.
However, the human rights group Amnesty International released a report on Wednesday saying that the court's verdict "must be immediately quashed", calling it a campaign to stop the cleric from defending the rights of the Shia Muslim community in Saudi Arabia.
"The death sentence against Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr is part of a campaign by the authorities in Saudi Arabia to crush all dissent, including those defending the rights of the Kingdom's Shi'a Muslim community," the Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program said in the report.
According to Amnesty International, the Specialized Criminal Court gave Nimr a "deeply flawed" ruling for disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife and encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.
The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, also called on the ruling al Saud regime to overturn the verdict, according to Press TV.
Nimr is a vocal supporter of the anti-government protests which began in the Qatif Region of the oil-rich Eastern Province in 2011, home to a Shia minority, who consider themselves marginalized by the Sunni ruling family. The activist suggested that the province secede from Saudi Arabia and join the Kingdom of Bahrain if Shia rights were not better respected. The cleric's arrest on July 8, 2012, during which he was shot four times in the leg by police, was followed by further unrest and arrests in Qatif.