Conflict & Justice

Saudi Arabia: Two people die at protests against the arrest of Shiite cleric


Saudi Shiite Muslim men take part in Ashura mourning rituals to commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed, in the mostly Shiite Qatif region of Eastern Province. Qatif has seen deadly protests against Saudi's Sunni rulers in recent months.



Following the arrest of a popular, anti-regime Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, hundreds of demonstrators marched in protest. They challenged the kingdom's royal family with chants such as "Down, Down with the House of Saud" and "Death to al-Saud," the Daily Telegraph reported. But the protests ended in tragedy when police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing two men.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the popular Shiite cleric and anti-government activist, has long inspired sentiment against the ruling family, although Saudi Arabia has managed to avoid the kind of protests that toppled governments in other countries during Arab Spring last year, Al Jazeera reported. "The speeches of Sheikh Nimr were very hot, and he's always attacking the government," a human rights activist told Al Jazeera. Activist say that Nimr was arrested on Sunday, after police chased him down and shot at him.  

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Nimr had been arrested on accusations of "sedition," Reuters reported. In a statement, the interior ministry said of Nimr's arrest: "Security will not tolerate troublemakers who abuse the community and their nation," according to the Telegraph.

In demonstrations against Nimr's arrest, activists said that protesters Akbar al-Shakuri and Mohammed al-Filfil were shot and killed by police, BBC News reported. The Saudi interior ministry, meanwhile, denies that there was police violence against protesters.

The majority of people living in Eastern Province are Shiites, and they have long complained that they have been marginalized by the Sunni royal family, the BBC said.