Riyadh (ShiaPAC) – The Saudi prosecutors have recommended the death sentence in the trial of Shaykh Baqir al-Nimr, a Shi’a cleric known for his vocal opposition of the Saudi monarchy. The trial started without due process, in the absence of the family of the defendant or his lawyers. The government invited only some of the local government affiliated news agencies to cover the trial.
The prosecutor, accusing him of “aiding terrorists” and instigating unrest, said he was guilty of “waging war on God”, a crime according to Saudi law, that automatically carries the death penalty, al-Riyadh daily reported.
Saudi Arabia has no written legal code and judges have wide discretion to deliver verdicts based on their interpretation of sharia and without reference to precedent.
In 2011 Shaykh Tawfiq al-Amr, another Shi’a cleric was also imprisoned for demanding a constitutional monarchy, lifting the ban on personal freedoms, and equality for all. He was also charged with raising the call for prayers according to the Shia tradition.
Many religious scholars and academics have condemned the government’s actions against Sheikh al-Nimr including a group of 135 religious scholars and leaders in Ahsa province who issued a statement rejecting the regime’s accusations.
The Pre-Trial Hearing :
Two weeks ago, through statements from twitter accounts believed to be linked to Interior Ministry officials, it was announced that Shaykh Nimr would be put on trial. Not surprisingly, two weeks later and without any notice, Saudi authorities took Shaykh al-Nimr from his hospital bed, by ambulance, under heavy security, to the court house.
Sheikh al-Nimr who was shot and injured during his arrest in 2012 was shackled and unable to walk, while being escorted by officers into the courtroom on a wheel chair. Judge al-Dosari read the list of charges against Shaykh al-Nimr, which included incitement to violence against government property, interfering in the affairs of a neighboring country (Bahrain), incitement of terrorist activities, spreading disorder and harming national unity, not being patriotic, insulting a neighboring country, and threatening the use of an outside source.
An article from a Saudi newspaper states that Shaykh al-Nimr asked the court to allow him time to respond to these accusations, and to appoint him a lawyer. He also asked for his family to be present during his trial, which would continue in Riyadh. In a message to his supporters Shaykh al-Nimr said that “he felt his spirits lifted” upon hearing the charges.
TAKE ACTION- What can you do to help Sheikh al-Nimr:
– Appeal the human rights organizations and the international community to recognize Shaykh Nimr as a prisoner of conscience, and to pressure the Saudi government not to treat him as an enemy of the state.
-Build pressure on the Saudi regime by contacting your local elected officials in the US & European nations as well as the global print and broadcast media.