SHAFAQNA – On January 2, 2016, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent cleric and human rights advocate was brutally executed by the Saudi regime, on allegations he posed a threat to national security.
Sheikh al-Nimr was not a violent man, and all human rights advocacy groups agreed that his position was always one of peace and social cohesion.
“Saudi Arabia had a shameful start to 2016, executing 47 people in a day, after a year with one of the highest execution rates in its recent history,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The death penalty is never the answer to crimes, and executing prisoners en masse further stains Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record.”
The charges against Sheikh al-Nimr included “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “inciting sectarian strife,” and supporting rioting and destruction of public property during 2011-2012 protests in Shia-majority towns and cities. The proceedings of Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, which conducted his trial in 13 sessions over a year and a half, raised serious fair trial concerns, including vague charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes and trial sessions held without informing Sheikh al-Nimr’s legal advocate.
Authorities arrested Sheikh al-Nimr in June 2012 and held him for eight months before bringing charges, although the Interior Ministry had labeled him an “instigator of discord and rioting” after his arrest. Officials claimed that he resisted arrest and rammed a security force vehicle, leading to a gun battle in which al-Nimr was wounded. Purported photos of the incident released by the local media show the wounded sheikh slumped in the back seat of a car wearing a bloodied white robe. A family member told Human Rights Watch that Sheikh al-Nimr did not own a gun and that they dispute the claim that he resisted arrest.
Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system that make it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases.