“We continue to call upon the government of Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights and to permit the peaceful expression of dissent, and to work together with all community leaders to defuse tensions,” Kirby told reporters during his daily press briefing.
Kirby’s comments come two days after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric who was an outspoken critic of the Sunni kingdom’s ruling family, and 46 other prisoners.
Al-Nimr’s execution sparked outrage throughout the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday cut diplomatic ties with Iran after protesters set its embassy in Tehran on fire. Bahrain and Sudan have also severed relations with the predominantly Shiite country.
“We continue to believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations are essential to work through differences,” said Kirby on Monday during his daily press briefing. “Increased friction runs counter to the interests of all those in the international community who support moderation, peace and stability.”
State Department report highlights LGBT rights record
Saudi Arabia is among the countries in which homosexuality remains punishable by death.
The State Department’s latest human rights report that it released last June notes it is illegal for men in Saudi Arabia “‘to behave like women’ or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa.” It also says the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforces moral norms and religious laws in the kingdom, has used undercover agents “to identify and arrest the owners of social media accounts” that distributed pornography or “served as social networking tools for LGBT persons.”
The report notes that some of the 35 gay men who were arrested by police and agents of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice at a party in the city of Jiddah in April 2014 were wearing women’s clothes. A judge in the city of Medina a few months later sentenced a man to three years in prison and 450 lashes for “soliciting sex with other men” on Twitter.
Gulf News, a newspaper based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, on Dec. 30 reported that authorities in Taif, which is roughly 65 miles east of the city of Mecca, arrested a man who was wearing an abaya, an all-black cloak that women in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries traditionally wear, in a shopping mall.
Secretary of State John Kerry in July 2014 during a meeting with then-Saudi King Abdullah in Jiddah discussed the Islamic State and the large swaths of Iraq of which it had taken control. Then-State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki declined to tell the Washington Blade whether the two men discussed the kingdom’s LGBT rights record.