Prominent Shia cleric sentenced to death in Saudi

Sheikh Nimr al Nimr

It is no secret that the eastern province of Saudi Arabia is discriminated against, writes Ali Bokhari following the confirmation of the death sentence on Ayatollah Nimr al Nimr.

Religious minorities are also subject to prejudice, to the extent that the open practice of Christianity is banned.

In 2011, the Shia Muslim minority staged an uprising to condemn the marginalisation of their community, and to campaign for equal rights, as well as an end to the economic, social, and sectarian discrimination they were facing.

One man who was particularly vocal in supporting the uprising, as well as the uprising in the neighbouring island of Bahrain (where the Shia majority are also subject to discrimination by yet another despotic monarchy) was Ayatollah Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al Nimr. He was arrested two years ago by the Saudi authorities, and was subject to horrific treatment.

Ayatollah Al Nimr was shot in the leg 4 times and wounded by the police, and according to reports was denied medical treatment.

His crime has essentially been to speak up for the oppressed religious Shia minority residing in the eastern province of the country. And to provide adequate education and other facilities for the residents.

Jailed for over 800 days, mostly in solitary confinement with long periods of lack of access to him by his lawyer and family, Sheikh Nimr has been the pivotal figure and leader in the uprising against the regime since 2011.

Uprising

However, Saudi officials have been adamant to quell and squash the uprising, hence the harsh lengthy imprisonment and subsequent sentence.

As we can already see, several human rights abuses have been committed against Ayatollah Nimr, but this is nothing foreign for Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has a long history and track record of human rights abuses, one such being the Mabahith secret police agency which detains political opponents, tortures, and interrogates them. This agency acts with impunity, and has affiliated prisons in which it keeps political dissidents in.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission estimates 30,000 people have been kept in these prisons, and the fact that the Saudi Arabian interior ministry denies any dissidents being kept in these facilities, raises considerable questions as to the treatment of these prisoners.

Ayatollah Nimr was tried in Riyadh’s specialised criminal court, which deals with terrorism. It’s ironic that he should be charged in such a court, given that Ayatollah Nimr supported only peaceful protest.

Saudi ruthlessly cracked down on its own peaceful uprising in 2011
Saudi ruthlessly cracked down on its own peaceful uprising in 2011

Anyone that is familiar with Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical role, will also find it incredibly ironic that Saudi Arabia has the audacity to try Ayatollah Nimr in court that deals with terrorism, given the fact that they are arguably the largest sponsor of terrorism worldwide, both in terms of funding and ideology.

It is also evident, as demonstrated by many human rights groups, that Sheikh Nimr did not receive a fair trial, but then we must ask ourselves, why would he receive a fair trial? Saudi Arabia is a hub of injustice, as is demonstrated by the secret police that act with impunity, as well as the charges placed on Ayatollah Nimr being completely void of reason, and simply representing the corrupt agenda of the Saudi monarchy.

He has been charged with “sowing discord” and “undermining national unity”. Two laughable accusations. What do the Saudi authorities propose the marginalised communities of Saudi Arabia do? Endure the mindless oppression they suffer, in order to not “sow discord” or “undermine national unity”? Can we really call it national unity, when the minority is subject to the tyranny of the ruling class?

His punishment is crucifixion – an inhumane punishment of the worst kind. He will be beheaded, and then his body left out in the public display as a warning.

Pressure must continue

I for one, am incredibly inspired by Ayatollah Nimr, for “sowing discord” in a climate where oppression is prevalent. It can only mean, that his cause was a cause for peace, for freedoms, and for equality, as he peacefully opposed, oppression, totalitarianism, and inequality.

For the sake of the freedom of his people, it may just cost him his life, but it’s a price he seems content to undertake, if his death can highlight their oppressive plight.

Saudi Arabia must realise and remember, that by crucifying Ayatollah Nimr, we will not be silenced. By executing him, Saudi Arabia will only create thousands more like him and risk igniting a strong backlash in eastern region.

Another fact that Saudi Arabia cannot afford to overlook is the rise of the Houthi Shia rebels, south of the border in Yemen who have recently overrun the government.

The pressure on Saudi Arabia will not, and must not stop. We must continue to highlight their human rights abuses, as well as the tyranny they inflict upon the minorities within the so called Kingdom, but with the methodology of Ayatollah Nimr, for as he supported:

“The roar of the word against authorities rather than weapons… the weapon of the word is stronger than bullets, because authorities will profit from a battle of weapons” – Ayatollah Nimr.

There will be an emergency vigil for Ayatollah Nimr at Marble Arch in London on Friday October 17.

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