Amid worsening relations, Saudi Arabia executes three Iranians

Iran's Foreign Ministry is accused of ignoring regional issues after three Iranians inside Saudi Arabia were executed for drug trafficking.

al-monitor A general view of Ha'er Prison in Saudi Arabia, July 6, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser.
Arash Karami

Arash Karami


Topics covered

saudi-iranian rivalry, proxy wars, iranian-saudi relations, foreign minister, executions, drugs, diplomacy, crisis

Nov 9, 2015

Saudi Arabia’s charge d’affairs in Tehran was summoned after three Iranians were executed, reportedly for drug trafficking. The executions have resulted in a further deterioration in relations between the two countries involved in a number of proxy wars in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry announced the Nov. 8 executions of the three Iranians in the eastern city of Dammam, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The report said the three individuals, Nabi Baksh Jos, Mohammad Akram Baloch and Omid Bolideh, were arrested in the Persian Gulf waters attempting to smuggle a large amount of hashish into the country. The Saudi appellate court and the king of Saudi Arabia both upheld the ruling, according to the report.

The summons from Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned Saudi Arabia of repeating the violation of the country’s international commitments with respect to foreign citizens. Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Ghashghavi said that when the Iranians were originally arrested four years ago, Iran attempted to provide them with legal counsel but were prevented from doing so by Saudi Arabia. He also said two Iranian citizens were acquitted in the case. 

On the damage to diplomatic relations from executing foreign citizens, Ghashghavi said, “Foreign countries have citizens subject to execution in Iran, but executing foreign citizens has a negative impact on relations.” He said Iran has always taken this impact into consideration, “but unfortunately the government of Saudi Arabia has not given consideration to this issue.” 

Influential conservative Iranian MP and member of the Foreign Policy and National Security Committee Ismael Kowsari accused Iran’s Foreign Ministry of putting all of its efforts into the nuclear negotiations and neglecting relations with regional countries, causing “countries such as Saudi Arabia to behave in an undiplomatic manner.” He added that the Foreign Ministry was given a number of warnings about the case of the Iranians but they failed to take action.

Kowsari also accused Saudi Arabia of “taking inhumane action against Iran every two or three months,” pointing to the September hajj stampede in which 474 Iranians were killed, the crane crash in Mecca in the same month that killed a number of Iranians including a top scientist, and the April incident in which two Iranian boys on pilgrimage were sexually assaulted by Saudi security in the Jeddah airport.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has executed Iranian citizens over drug trafficking. In 2012, an estimated 18 Iranians were executed for the same crime.

Some on Iranian social media had attempted to link the execution of the three Iranians to the video of three public beheadings caught on video in Saudi Arabia. However, according to Middle East Monitor, which acquired the video, those beheadings took place in western Saudi Arabia in the city of Jeddah, while the three Iranians were executed in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are currently engaged in a number of indirect conflicts, including civil wars raging in Syria and Yemen. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Iran will take part in the Syria talks in Vienna on Nov. 12. According to Bloomberg, during the last Vienna talks, the Iranian and Saudi Arabian foreign ministers reportedly clashed repeatedly.