Saudi Court Sentences Iconic Shiite Spiritual Leader to Death

Nimr al-Nimr, an iconic Shiite cleric, will be beheaded and crucified in accordance with Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court ruling.

MOSCOW, October 16 (RIA Novosti), Ekaterina Blinova - Nimr al-Nimr, an iconic Shiite cleric, will be beheaded and crucified in accordance with Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court ruling.

"Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death a Shiite Muslim cleric who was at the forefront of the country's pro-democracy protests in 2011 in a move that will likely rekindle sectarian divide in the Middle East, sending shockwaves through the Shiite community," the International Business Times reports.

The cleric was detained in 2012, after he took part in Shiite-led wave of protests against Sunni authorities in the Qatif area of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, as well as in Bahrain between 2011 and August 2012. Nimr al-Nimr is well known for his vocal support of the Saudi minorities. His arrest, during which the cleric was seriously injured by the Saudi police, caused several days of turmoil according to Al-Akhbar, a Beirut-based media outlet. In the ensuing Saudi crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, 20 people were killed. It should be noted, that Shiites constitute the majority of oil-rich Eastern Province's population with the largest concentration in Qatif. 

The court has convicted the cleric of "sedition," "disobeying" the kingdom's authorities, and "taking up arms against security forces," Agence France-Press reports citing Mohammed al-Nimr, the cleric's brother. The Saudi prosecutors have also accused Nimr al-Nimr of "seeking 'foreign meddling' in the country," referring to his ties with Iran, the media source adds. 

Janine di Giovanni, award-winning author and journalist, describes the gruesome Saudi beheading practice: "You will be led to the center of the square, on the bare earth. According to one of Saudi Arabia’s state executioners… your energy is likely to fade at this point, from sheer exhaustion and fear.  At the square, you will be forced to your knees. Plastic bags are spread out over the surrounding area to catch the blood that will spill when your head is sliced off, with a single blow of the sword if you are lucky."

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organization which conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has condemned the decision of the Saudi court, citing "serious fair trial concerns."

"Saudi Arabia’s harsh treatment of a prominent Shia cleric is only adding to the existing sectarian discord and unrest. Saudi Arabia’s path to stability in the Eastern Province lies in ending systematic discrimination against Shia citizens, not in death sentences," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Right Watch, as cited by the HRW media source.

Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor has called Saudi Arabia "one of the greatest forces for sectarianism in the region," and emphasized that the anti-IS coalition may lose its legitimacy in the eyes of Shiites in Iraq.

"With allies like this, and ongoing close military ties between the US and Saudi Arabia, it's hard for President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry to convince Iraq's Shiite leaders that they're taking their interests to heart," the media outlet points out.

Nimr al-Nimr's death sentence has also provoked a heated debate on social media. Many of Twitter users claim the execution of the prominent Shiite cleric will further aggravate tensions between Sunni and Shia in the region, demanding to redeem Nimr al-Nimr.

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