Raising fears of renewed sectarian tensions in the region, Saudi Arabia’s top court has sentenced a Shia Cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ,a charismatic opposition leader, to death, for speaking out against the kingdom’s ruling family. The same Saudi Arabia who wanted to help Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar el Assad.
After being imprisoned for nearly two years, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr appeared in Riyadh’s Specialized Criminal Court last Wednesday with his lawyer and two brothers. Charged with terrorism offences and “breaking allegiance to the king,” the judge upheld the country’s harshest sentence — “crucifixion” — where the decapitated body is publicly displayed.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has repeatedly called for an end to corruption and discrimination against minorities in the second-largest country in the Arab world.
He was arrested in July 2012, after being shot in the leg four times for allegedly resisting arrest. He was held for eight months before being charged and his trial was delayed twice to allow the prosecution “to gather more evidence”.
The shooting came after a speech delivered by Sheikh al-Nimr in which he said, “It is our (Saudis) right, and the right of the Bahraini people, and all people everywhere, to choose our leaders and demand that rule by succession be done away with as it contradicts our religion.”
The verdict for the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has triggered demonstrations in different countries around the world, including Saudi Arabia’s eastern province of al-Qatif as well as across neighboring Bahrain. In the capital Manama, Bahraini security forces attacked protesters who were denouncing the death row against al-Nimr with tear gas and rubber pellets.
The death sentence was slammed by many NGOs across the world, including Amnesty International. Prominent religious figures in the Islamic world have called on Saudi Arabia to release Sheikh al-Nimr, calling it an unjust and illegitimate sentence.
Protesters in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been staging demonstrations on a daily basis for the past three years, calling for the downfall of the monarchies in both countries.
The peaceful protests staged in the Bahraini capital Manama, and several other cities across the country began in February 2011. Several political activists, such as Nabil Rajab and Hadi al Khawaja, have been arrested a multiple times for publishing tweets that “insult the Bahraini King”. Such detentions of activists, who call for democracy and political reforms, go against the freedom of speech which is a basic right of every citizen in this world.
Countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were of the first countries to support the revolution in Syria. It was them who went all the way in encouraging Syrians who were calling for the downfall of President Bashar al Assad, as they financed and armed the fighters who are now mainly responsible for destroying almost every town in Syria.
According to the Gulf monarchies, revolutions that demand reforms and democracies should be protected and maintained. But then again, in countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the freedom of speech is almost completely silenced, and those who defy their laws are to be arrested, imprisoned, or even “crucified”.