Monday, 4 January 2016

The fight for religious freedom by Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

Nimr Baqir Al-NimrSheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who has been executed by Saudi Arabia, was a prominent, outspoken religious leader drawn from the country's marginalised Shia minority.Born in 1959 or 1960 in a village in Qatif district in Eastern Province, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr studied for many years in Tehran and in Syria.He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1994 and his calls for religious freedoms soon brought him to the attention of the Saudi security services.Nimr al-Nimr was by then becoming a figure of national prominenceThe cleric was briefly detained on two occasions before 2012, in 2004 and 2006, He was arrested in 2012, the year after protests broke out in oil-rich Eastern Province following the Arab Spring.During his arrest after a car chase in the province's Qatif district he was shot four times in the leg - three people were killed in the days of protests that followed.Nimr al-Nimr, who was in his 50s, had been a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests in the province, where a Shia majority have long complained of marginalisation.
He is said to have had a particularly strong following among Shia youth in Saudi Arabia - as well as in Bahrain.Sheikh Al-Nimr's crime has been to defend the revolutionaries,(Arab spring) the right of the Shia to live in Saudi Arabia. This is considered a crime in the eyes of the regime."e had been bitterly critical of the Sunni monarchies in both countries.

Bahrain put down protests by its majority Shia population in 2011 with the help of Saudi troops.Over the past decade the cleric was arrested several times.He alleged he was beaten by secret police during one spell in custody.His death sentence was confirmed in October 2014, with his family saying he had been found guilty of, among other charges, seeking "foreign meddling" in the kingdom.Sheikh Nimr never denied the political charges against him but his supporters say he advocated only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed violence against the government.During the 2011–2012 Saudi Arabian protests, al-Nimr called for protestors to resist police bullets using "the roar of the word" rather than violence, predicted the overthrow of the government if repression continued, and was seen by The Guardian as having "taken the lead in  uprising".
On 8 July 2012 al-Nimr was shot by police in the leg and arrested, in what police described as an "exchange of gunfire". Thousands of people protested in response in several protests in which two men, Akbar al-Shakhouri and Mohamed al-Felfel, were killed by police bullets. Al-Nimr started a hunger strike and appeared to have been tortured.The Asharq Center for Human Rights expressed concern for al-Nimr's health during his hunger strike on 21 August, calling for international support to allow access by family, lawyer and human rights activists.
On 15 October 2014, al-Nimr was sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court for "seeking 'foreign meddling' in Saudi Arabia, 'disobeying' its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces" and his brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, was arrested on the same day for tweeting information about the death sentence. Nimr Baqr al-Nimr was executed on or shortly before 2 January 2016 among 47 people executed. His execution was condemned by Iran and Shiites throughout the Middle East, as well as by Western figures and Sunnis opposed to sectarianism.

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