Saudi Arabian police have killed at least one person, and injured a child during a fire fight in the eastern town of Awamiya, after a protest in the hometown of a prominent Shia cleric executed at the weekend, according to reports.
Details of exactly what happened aren’t hugely clear because of the notorious lack of information that comes out of Saudi Arabia, but Saudi police say that the incident occurred after “heavy equipment” was stolen in Awamiya, the hometown of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the cleric executed on Saturday.
Police said that security forces fired on protestors after being subject to “heavy gunfire,” and accused protestors of committing a “sinful terrorist action”. Police fire led to the death of Ali Imran al-Dawood, and to eight-year-old Mohammed Jaafra Althifa being injured. The child is in a stable condition in hospital.
The firefight was the latest in a series of clashes, sparked by al-Nimr’s execution, that have rocked the country, and have even led to a severing of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia flared after al-Nimr, along with three other Shia activists, and 43 members of al-Qaeda, were executed. Late on Saturday night Iranian protestors set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. This in turn, led to Saudi Arabia cutting ties with Iran, and giving Iranian diplomats just 48 hours to leave Saudi Arabia.
Who was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr?
Nimr al-Nimr — whose execution on Saturday sparked the unrest in Awamiya, his home town — was a Shia Sheikh in the East of Saudi Arabia, well known for his anti-government stance, and for his frequent calls for free elections in the country.
He argued strongly that Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia are discriminated against by the Sunni ruling family, and had a history of organising protests against the ruling family to bring Shia-Sunni relations into the public eye, something that did not please Saudi authorities.
The Sheikh had a long history of run-ins with the authorities, and was arrested, or detained, on several occasions throughout his life, before eventually being sentenced to death:
- In 2004, he was arrested, and detained for several days by Saudi authorities. In 2006, he was arrested and beaten by Mabahith, the so-called Saudi secret police. Following a campaign from residents in his hometown, he was released.
- In 2009, following the arrest of several children at a protest, al-Nimr publicly criticised the authorities, and called for the Shia portion of Saudi Arabia to secede from the Sunnis. In response, an arrest warrant was issued for al-Nimr.
- After involvement in the Saudi Arabian protests in 2011-12, al-Nimr was shot in the leg by police in July 2012, and subsequently arrested. He was charged with “instigating unrest” in the country, as well as “disobeying the ruler”, “inciting sectarian strife” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.” He was not released after this arrest.
- He was officially sentenced to death by the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court in October 2014 for “seeking ‘foreign meddling’ in [Saudi Arabia], ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces”.
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