President Francois Hollande has awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, to visiting Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the president’s office confirmed on Sunday.
The office had released no statement on the visit that took place Friday, but it was reported by the Saudi news agency SPA, which said Nayef was cited for his “efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism”.
A Hollande aide said Nayef, who is the Saudi interior minister, received the honour as a “foreign individual, a common protocol practice,” noting that Hollande himself received Saudi Arabia’s top honour during one of his visits there.
Bilateral ties are strong, sealed by major arms deals as well as Riyadh’s participation in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.
News of the bestowal of the Legion d’Honneur on Nayef sparked harsh criticism on social media from opponents to the death penalty, many tweeting using the hashtag “#honte” (#shame).
Translation: In the greatest of secrecy: The legion of honour for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia on Sunday carried out its 70th execution so far this year, beheading a man convicted of murder.
On 2 January, 47 people were executed for “terrorism,” including Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a driving force behind protests that began in 2011 among the kingdom’s minority Shia.
As interior minister, Nayef would have been closely involved in the approval of the executions process.
Most people sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword.
Others, as reported by Middle East Eye, have their limbs amputated before they are killed, and others are crucified after being put to death.
Among the 47 executed were a mentally ill man and a prisoner who was arrested while still a juvenile.
Saudi Arabia is also regularly accused of aiding hardline Sunni groups in wars in Yemen and Syria, and it has shipped weapons to Syria that have ended up in the hands of Islamic State militants.
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