Human rights activists from around the world are demanding clemency for Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, warning that the execution could inflame the whole of the Middle East.
Prominent clerics and scholars across Iran, have unanimously condemned the recent upholding of Nimr’s death sentence by a Saudi court, warning that massive repercussions await the kingdom if the verdict is carried out.
Nimr was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for taking part in Shia Muslim minority protests in 2011.
Shia Muslims across the world have been holding rallies and petitioning to prevent the execution from taking place. When Saudi Arabia announced al-Nimr would be executed on May 14, protests intensified and people took to the streets in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India and Iraq.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) an independent non-profit organization based in London, have asked the UN to intervene and prevent al-Nimr’s execution. He is the most respected Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the approximately 18 million population are Sunni.
In their address they say: “It is a severe blight on the reputation of this office if it is not able to work to protect the rights of individuals to free speech, to protest, to practise their religion, to a fair trial, to not be subjected to torture, and the right to life.”
Despite global condemnation the forthcoming execution has been largely ignored by Saudi Arabia’s key allies – the UK and the US, nations that profess to upholding democratic values.
The representative of Bahraini Shiite leader, Shaykh Ali Salman, told the ABNA news agency that US Secretary of State John Kerry was dismayed by the Saudi decision to execute Ayatollah al-Nimr. Allegedly, Kerry was informed about the Saudi decision during a meeting in Riyadh on May 6.
“John Kerry expressed his surprise to President Barack Obama over the decision made by the House of Saud, and by their silence they gave the green light to Saudi Arabia to go ahead with the execution,” the representative said.
In London, where Shia Muslims staged a #FreeNimr rally, RT spoke to former Bahraini MP Jawad Fayruz. He said since Saudi Arabia is “mainly backed by the US and the United Kingdom,” it could be just “one word” from US or UK officials to reverse things and save al-Nimr’s life.
“Our clear message is to Downing Street, to [PM] Cameron: you have the ability and you can do a lot of things,” said Fayruz, explaining that the British prime minister could use his influence on Saudi Arabia and secure Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s release.
The lawmaker also said: “There’s no independent judiciary system in Saudi Arabia” and the case of Sheikh al-Nimr is “politically oriented.” This is especially due to the ongoing war against Yemen, where Shia Houthi rebels overthrew the president, a Saudi Arabian protégé.
Skeikh al-Nimr became a symbol of the 2011 insurrection when the Arab Spring came to Saudi Arabia. He led Shia Muslim street protests throughout the country, demanding constitutional changes, liberties and an end to anti-Shia discrimination in the kingdom.
Sheikh al-Nimr was arrested on July 8, 2012 in disputed circumstances, after police tracked him down in the eastern province of Qatif and shot him in the leg during a shootout.
The Sheikh’s relatives insisted al-Nimr didn’t own a gun, but the cleric was accused of terrorism and apostasy and put on trial in March 2013. Human rights activists shared concerns since the outset that al-Nimr was unlikely to get a fair trial.
The arrest of Skeikh al-Nimr provoked even more disturbances in Saudi Arabia, as protesters demanded his immediate release, which led to an even greater escalation of violence between protesters and Saudi security forces.
The arguably biased trial lasted until October 2014, with al-Nimr being sentenced to death for “disobeying the ruler,”“inciting sectarian strife” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.”