In a press statement read out on state TV on Saturday, the ministry listed the names of all those it said were already convicted on charges of terrorism.

The death sentence given to Nimr al-Nimr, who led anti-government protests in the country’s east, was confirmed by the Supreme Court in October.

He was convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. Al-Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.

Faris al-Zahrani had been in custody ever since his detention near the Yemeni border in 2004 [Youtube]

Iran condemned his execution, saying that Riyadh was executing “opponents of terrorism”.

Hossein Jaber Ansari, Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson, said Saudi Arabia will “pay a high price for following these policies”.

Many of the other men executed had been linked to attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2006, blamed on al-Qaeda.

Among them was al-Qaeda preacher al-Zahani, once considered one of Saudi Arabia’s “most-wanted terrorists”. Hewas detained in 2004 while allegedly in possession of weapons.

An Egyptian citizen and a Chadian citizen were also among the executed, the ministry said. The rest were all Saudis.

Hussain al-Shobokshi, a prominent Saudi columnist, told Al Jazeera that Saudi authorities did not differentiate between “Shia source of terror and Sunni source of terror”.

“[Saudi Arabia] made sure it saw no difference between any form of terror, as long as it was threatening its people and its economy,” he said.

The interior ministry said that those convicted had participated in attacks against residential compounds and government buildings.

Scores of Shias in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province marched through Nimr’s home district of Qatif to protest against the execution.

Dozens of protesters also took to the streets in neighbouring Bahrain, where police fired tear gas to disperse them.

Nimr had called for the oil-rich Eastern Province, where about two million Shia live, to be separated from the rest of Saudi Arabia.

He also criticised the government for what he said was the marginalisation of the Shia minority in the country.

Nimr was sentenced to death after he was found guilty disobedience to the king, inciting sectarian strife and encouraging and leading demonstrations [EPA]

Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement condemned the execution, calling it an “assassination”.

The “real reason” for the execution was “that Sheikh Nimr … demanded the squandered rights of an oppressed people,” the group said in a statement.

The announcement of the executions comes just days after Amnesty International said that Saudi Arabia executed at least 151 people in 2015, the most beheadings in 20 years.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities appear intent on continuing a bloody execution spree,” Amnesty’s report, quoting James Lynch, deputy director at the Middle East and North Africa programme, said on Monday.

It is the most people put to death in the kingdom in one year since 1995, when 192 executions were reportedly carried out.

Amnesty International, the human-rights organisation, said the large number of executions shed further light on what it referred to as unfair judicial proceedings, with a disproportionate imposition of capital punishment on foreign nationals.

“Of the 63 people executed this year for drug-related charges, the vast majority, 45 people, were foreign nationals,” the report said.

Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political commentator based in Riyadh, challenged “the integrity” of Amnesty’s report, saying it failed to mention Iran’s execution record.

“Iran executes far more people a year than Saudi Arabia, but it does not get the negative publicity Saudi Arabia has. This is something that must be addressed,” Dakhil told Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, the US and Iraq are the top five countries with the most executions.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies