THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Catherine Shakdam – One week after Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr was sentenced to death by a Saudi court under the pretext that he criticized King Abdullah’s position toward Bahrain’s democratic aspirations – an offense which is passable of death in this absolute theocracy – a tremendous backlash has taken shape, not only within Saudi Arabia but across the entire region.
Human rights activists have deplored and condemned in the strongest of terms Sheikh Al Nimr’ sentencing, arguing in some instances that his death would equate to a crime against humanity. A prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Al Nimr has spoken against Al Saud’s crimes against their people without ever making any distinction on the basis of sectarianism. A man of the people and a humanist, Sheikh Al Nimr has been equally revered by Shias and Sunnis across the Middle East, as a man of wisdom and compassion.
Outraged by Al Saud’s determination to silence Sheikh Al Nimr’s message of hope, religious and community leaders in the eastern Saudi province of Qatif as well as prominent foreign officials have warned that there would be terrible repercussions should the sentence to death be carried out.
Demonstrations in Bahrain have already erupted, with protesters calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the cleric from prison,
In London Mayfair, where the Saudi Embassy is located, rights activists and protesters took to the streets, determined to hold the kingdom accountable for its crimes and repeated violations against human rights. Many called on the UK government to disavow Al Saud, one of Britain’s key allies in the Middle East on account of their brutality and despicable ruling methods.
In a BBC interview, Sheikh Al Nimr said he backed “the roar of the word against authorities rather than weapons”.
The arrest of his brother and other relatives have additionally fuelled anger across the kingdom as such stance has been understood as systematic repression against the Shia community based solely on sectarian hatred and bigotry.
Social media – Twitter and Facebook – have quite literally exploded in anger, calling for the deposition of Al Saud.
Speaking against Al Saud’s decision Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch noted, “Saudi Arabia’s harsh treatment of a prominent Shia cleric is only adding to existing sectarian discord and unrest.” He added, “Saudi Arabia’s path to stability in the eastern province lies in ending systematic discrimination against Shia citizens, not in death sentences.”
Amnesty International described Nimr’s sentencing as part of a wider Saudi government crackdown on dissent.