Shiite’s arrest inflames fatal protests in Saudi Arabia
A protester holds up a picture of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a rally against his arrest in the coastal town of Qatif. REUTERS photo
Security forces in eastern Saudi Arabia have cracked down on a large demonstration in the eastern city of Qatif, killing two Shiites and injuring at least 20 others following the arrest of a prominent Shiite cleric and government critic, activists said yesterday.
Hundreds of protesters were reported to have taken to the streets on July 8 after Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric and anti-government activist, was chased, shot and arrested while driving earlier in the day, according to activists.
The government described al-Nimr as an “instigator of sedition” as it announced that he was arrested at Awamiya in Eastern Province on July 8 after being wounded in the leg while putting up resistance, Agence France-Presse reported. He was transferred to hospital and was due to be interrogated, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansur Turki was quoted by the official SPA news agency as saying.
More rights for minorities
Al-Nimr has been sought by authorities, after calling for more rights for minority Shiites in the conservative kingdom, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. He has been calling for the release of political prisoners, an end to discrimination against Shiites, and steps to check corruption. The spokesman said two Shiite demonstrators, Akhbar Shakuri and Mohammed Filfel, died during a demonstration to protest al-Nimr’s arrest. The ministry said, however, that there was no clash between protesters and police.
“Security authorities had been notified by a nearby medical center of the arrival of four individuals brought in by their relatives,” Turki told Reuters. “Two of them were dead, and the other two were slightly injured. Competent authorities initiated an investigation of the incident,” said the ministry, while activists reported that at least a dozen protesters were wounded during the clashes.
A key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia has largely escaped the kind of protests that have toppled four Arab heads of state since last year, but the mostly Shiite Qatif region of Eastern Province has been the focal point of sporadic demonstrations alleging discrimination. In January, the kingdom ordered the arrest of 23 Shiites in Eastern Province accused of being responsible for unrest that had led to shootings and protests in previous weeks. Shiites say they struggle to get government jobs or university places, that their neighborhoods suffer from under-investment and that their places of worship are often closed down. The government denies charges of discrimination.
The first demonstrations took place in February 2011 after an outbreak of violence between Shiite pilgrims and religious police in the holy city of Medina. The protests escalated after the kingdom led a force of Gulf troops into neighboring Bahrain to help crush a month-long Shiite-led uprising against the country’s Sunni monarchy.
Most of Saudi Arabia’s estimated 2 million Shiites live in the east, where the vast majority of the OPEC kingpin’s huge oil reserves lie.