WASHINGTON, August 12, 2014 — A large number of Bahraini Shia took to the streets on the island of Sitra on Sunday to show solidarity with Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, who has been in a Saudi prison for two years.
According to Press TV, Sheikh Nimr was attacked and arrested while en route to his home in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Qatif region on July 8, 2012. The Sheikh was subsequently charged with disturbing the country’s security, giving anti-government speeches, and defending political prisoners. These charges have earned the sheikh a death sentence which has sparked outrage among the international community.
Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr is an independent Shia sheikh in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province of Al-Awamiyah. Nimr is popular among the youth in the area, and is also an active critic of the Saudi government. He has been a sheikh in the area from 2008 or before according to wiki-leaks cables obtained from the American embassy in Riyadh.
Educated in Syria and Iran, Nimr’s popularity derives from his appeal to the impoverished Saudi Shia community and those who wish to see improved relations between the Saudi government and the Shia community.
The sheikh’s popularity prompted fears in the Saudi government that he would spark uprisings in the country as evident in his first arrest by Saudi authorities in 2009.
It is likely for this reason that when protest broke out in the eastern province in 2011, the Saudi government wanted to arrest him again. The sheikh’s bold stance during the 2011-12 protests led to him being described by The Guardian as a leader of the protests. While the Saudi security response was violent, Nimr urged the protesters to resist police bullets with “the roar of the word”, advocating a strategy of non-violent resistance.
The actions of the Saudi government have sparked fierce condemnation from the international community. Amnesty International censured Saudi Arabia repeatedly over a host of human rights violations, including the oppression of the Shia minority. Shia Rights Watch has been a vocal critic of the Saudi government, citing article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which prohibits the arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, to condemn the arrest and sentencing of two Shia protesters earlier this year.
In addition to the actions being taken on the ground, online campaigns have been launched as well to garner support for the release of Sheikh Nimr:
- There is currently a petition circulating to demand the release of the sheikh at http://www.alnimr.tk/
- There is also a facebook page devoted to raising support for the release of the sheikh at https://ar-ar.facebook.com/pages/Free-Sheikh-Nimr-Baqir-Al-Nimr/125044634358004
- Hashtags #FreeSheikhNimr and #SaveAyatollahNemer are circulating around social media as well
The uprisings that occurred in 2011 resulted in the arrests of over 900 people, with 300 remaining in jail today. There are currently around 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabian prisons today.
Update: The final ruling on Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr which was supposed to be handed down on August 12, 2014 has been postponed
PressTV contributed to this report.