Human rights activists worldwide are demanding clemency for cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for taking part in Shia Muslim minority protests in 2011. They warn the execution could inflame the whole of the Middle East.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) an independent non-profit organization based in London, have asked the UN to intervene and prevent al-Nimr’s execution. He is the most respected Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the approximately 18 million population are Sunni.
In their address they say: “It is a severe blight on the reputation of this office if it is not able to work to protect the rights of individuals to free speech, to protest, to practise their religion, to a fair trial, to not be subjected to torture, and the right to life.”
Despite global condemnation the forthcoming execution has been largely ignored by Saudi Arabia’s key allies – the UK and the US, nations that profess to upholding democratic values.
The representative of Bahraini Shiite leader, Shaykh Ali Salman, said that US Secretary of State John Kerry was dismayed by the Saudi decision to execute Ayatollah al-Nimr. Allegedly, Kerry was informed about the Saudi decision during a meeting in Riyadh on May 6.
“John Kerry expressed his surprise to President Barack Obama over the decision made by the House of Saud, and by their silence they gave the green light to Saudi Arabia to go ahead with the execution,” the representative said.
In London, where Shia Muslims staged a #FreeNimr rally, Former Bahraini MP Jawad Fayruz said since Saudi Arabia is “mainly backed by the US and the United Kingdom,” it could be just “one word” from US or UK officials to reverse things and save al-Nimr’s life.
“Our clear message is to Downing Street, to [PM] Cameron: you have the ability and you can do a lot of things,” said Fayruz, explaining that the British prime minister could use his influence on Saudi Arabia and secure Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s release.
The lawmaker also said: “There’s no independent judiciary system in Saudi Arabia” and the case of Sheikh al-Nimr is “politically oriented.” This is especially due to the ongoing war against Yemen, where Shia Houthi rebels overthrew the president, a Saudi Arabian protégé.
Skeikh al-Nimr became a symbol of the 2011 insurrection when the Arab Spring came to Saudi Arabia. He led Shia Muslim street protests throughout the country, demanding constitutional changes, liberties and an end to anti-Shia discrimination in the kingdom.
Sheikh al-Nimr was arrested on July 8, 2012 in disputed circumstances, after police tracked him down in the eastern province of Qatif and shot him in the leg during a shootout.
The Sheikh’s relatives insisted al-Nimr didn’t own a gun, but the cleric was accused of terrorism and apostasy and put on trial in March 2013. Human rights activists shared concerns since the outset that al-Nimr was unlikely to get a fair trial.
The arrest of Skeikh al-Nimr provoked even more disturbances in Saudi Arabia, as protesters demanded his immediate release, which led to an even greater escalation of violence between protesters and Saudi security forces.
The arguably biased trial lasted until October 2014, with al-Nimr being sentenced to death for “disobeying the ruler,”“inciting sectarian strife” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.”
The sentence aroused the strongest condemnation from international human rights watchdogs.
Joe Stork, the organization’s deputy Middle East director, said: “Saudi Arabia’s harsh treatment of a prominent Shia cleric is only adding to the existing sectarian discord and unrest,” adding that if Saudi Arabia wants to gain stability in its eastern province, it should put an end to “systematic discrimination against Shia citizens.”
According to Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, “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 Shiite Muslim community.”
Shia Muslims around the world have been holding rallies and petitioning to prevent the execution. When Saudi Arabia announced al-Nimr will be executed on May 14, protests intensified and people took to the streets in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India and Iraq.
In Iran, the regional superpower and the only country with a predominantly Shiite population in the Middle East, clerics and scholars staged a mass sit-in on Wednesday in the two holy cities of Qom and Mashhad, to express their solidarity with Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Iranian Shia Muslim clerics warned that Saudi Arabia is going to pay a heavy price if it dares to execute the religious leader, saying the execution could trigger “an earthquake” that would lead to the fall of the Saud dynasty.
Last week, following the beheading of five foreigners, human rights groups condemned Saudi Arabia for a dramatic increase in public executions. Eighty people have already been executed so far in 2015, compared to 88 during the whole of 2014.
Despite mounting international criticism from foreign governments and human rights campaigners, Saudi Arabia has shown no willingness to end public executions.