SHAFAQNA- The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia represents another assault by Riyadh on the forces of reform and political empowerment in the Muslim world.
The outspoken leader was executed after being convicted in 2014 under charges that included disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife and encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.
His killing signals a renewed determination in Riyadh to undermine opposition and reform movements at home and abroad highlighted by Saudi Arabia’s bloody intervention in Yemen, its support of the Egyptian military dictatorship as well as its promotion of sectarianism in places like Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Until his arrest Sheikh Al-Nimr had been an outspoken critic of the Saudi monarchy and his calls for equality and reform. He supported the right of people to choose their own government and called for the downfall of the Saudi ruling family. Sheikh Nimr was detained in 2002 following a police pursuit in eastern province of Qatif which ended with him being shot in the leg. The sheikh’s arrest came against the backdrop of rising public unrest and dissension in Saudi Arabia as the Arab Spring took hold across the Middle East. Skeikh al-Nimr became a symbol of the uprising, and prompted an escalation of violence by the Saudi security forces. Because the evidence that led to Sheikh Nimr’s conviction is mainly based on his sermons (i.e. what he said and believed), he was widely considered a prisoner of conscience.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said “This atrocity shows all too clearly that the Saudi regime is out of control. Killing an activist, scholar and political reformist for his views, against the unanimous disapproval of human rights organizations around the world is an affront to all civilized values and a sign that Riyadh will stop at nothing to eliminate any sign of public self-empowerment in Muslim countries. Sheikh Nimr will be remembered as a Shia leader who stood up for the rights of all Muslims, irrespective of their sect or school of thought.”
The Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, which convicted Sheikh al-Nimr has also been widely criticized for flagrant due process violations, including broadly framed charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes, and denial of access to lawyers at arrest and during pre-trial detention, making it almost impossible to prepare cases for trial. The court has also been criticized for dismissing without investigation allegations of torture and admitting as evidence confessions that defendants said were coerced. According to a 2011 report by IHRC there are an estimated 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia out of a population of approximately 18 million Saudi nationals.