Denomination: Twelver Shia
School: Mohammad Hussaini Shirazi, Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi
Born: 1959 Al-Awamiyah, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
Died: 2 January 2016 (aged 56 or 57) Saudi Arabia
Nimr Baqr al-Nimr also commonly referred to as Sheikh Nimr, was a Shia Sheikh in al-Awamiyah, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. He was popular among youth and critical of the Saudi Arabian government. He called for free elections in Saudi Arabia, and was arrested by Saudi authorities in 2006, at which time al-Nimr said he was beaten by the Mabahith. In 2009, he criticised Saudi authorities and suggested that if Saudi Shias’ rights were not respected, the Eastern Province should secede. Saudi authorities responded by arresting al-Nimr and 35 others. During the 2011–12 Saudi Arabian protests, al-Nimr called for protestors to resist police bullets using “the roar of the word” rather than violence, and predicted the collapse of the government if repression continued. The Guardian described al-Nimr as having “taken the lead in [the] uprising.”
Al-Nimr has been a Shia Sheikh in al-Awamiyah since 2008 or earlier. He studied for about ten years in Tehran and also studied in Syria. He initially followed Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussaini Shirazi and as of 2008, followed Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi.
As of 2008, he was independent of the two main political groups in the Eastern Province Shia community, Islahiyyah (the Shirazis) and Hezbollah Al-Hejaz (Saudi Hezbollah).
Al-Nimr has been the Friday prayers leader in al-Awamiyah since 2009 or earlier.
Nimr al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, who participated in the 2011–12 Saudi Arabian protests, was arrested in 2012 at the age of 17, sentenced to death in 2014, and expected ratification of his sentence by King Salman, to be carried out by beheading and crucifixion.
Points of view
Al-Nimr supported “something between” individual and council forms of guardianship of the Islamic Jurists as a form of government. He supported Kurdish majority control of Iraqi Kurdistan. Al-Nimr believed that Shia ayatollahs would not promote violence and “murder in the name of God”. He supported “the idea of elections”.
Al-Nimr criticized Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, which brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy Shia-led demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011.
Al-Nimr stated that the United States (US) “wants to humiliate the world.” In August 2008, he said that he saw US citizens as a natural ally of Shia as the thinking of both US citizens and Shia is “based on justice and liberty”.
He believed that the Saudi state is “particularly reactionary” and that “agitation” is needed to influence the state in general and the Saudi state in particular. According to John Kincannon, Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh, Al-Nimr made statements “perceived as supporting Iran”. In August 2008, he stated that he believed that Iran and other states outside of Saudi Arabia act mainly out of self-interest, not out of religious solidarity.
Al-Nimr stated that in the case of internal conflict in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Shia would have the right to ask for international intervention in analogy to requests for foreign military intervention by Kuwaitis and Saudis to the US in the 1990–91 Gulf War and people from Darfur during the War in Darfur.
Al-Nimr criticised Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, who was crown prince of Saudi Arabia, following Nayef’s death in June 2012. He stated that “people must rejoice at [Nayef’s] death” and that “he will be eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of Hell in his grave”.
Al-Nimr was described by US diplomat Gfoeller as “gaining popularity locally” in 2008. The Guardian described him as “[seeming] to have become the most popular Saudi Shia cleric among local youth” in October 2011. He retained his popularity in 2012, with thousands of people participated in Qatif street demonstrations in his support following his July 2012 arrest.
2004 and 2006 arrests
Al-Nimr was detained for several days in 2004. He was arrested by Mabahith in 2006 and beaten during his detention. Residents of al-Awamiyah campaigned to support him and he was released after several days.
2009 sermon and arrest order
In February 2009, an incident occurred in Medina involving differences in Shia and Sunni customs at the tomb of Muhammad, filming of Shia women by the religious police, protests by Shia in Medina and arrests. Six children were arrested during 4–8 March for taking part in a 27 February protest in Safwa.
Al-Nimr criticised the authorities’ February actions in Medina and the Minister of Interior in particular for discrimination against Saudi Arabian Shia. In a sermon, he threatened secession, stating “Our dignity has been pawned away, and if it is not … restored, we will call for secession. Our dignity is more precious than the unity of this land.”
A warrant for his arrest was issued in response. Protests took place in al-Awamiyah starting 19 March. Four people were arrested, including al-Nimr’s nephew, ‘Ali Ahmad al-Faraj, aged 16, who was arrested on 22 March. The police started tracking al-Nimr in order to arrest him and tried to take his children hostage. By 1 April, a total of 35 people had been arrested and security forces installed checkpoints on roads to al-Awamiyah. As of 1 April 2009, al-Nimr had not been arrested.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said that the authorities were “persecuting Shia reformist Nimr Bakir al-Nimr for his criticism of policies of sectarian discrimination against the Shia in Saudi Arabia and for his call for reform and equality.”
In October 2011, during the 2011–12 Saudi Arabian protests, al-Nimr said that young people protesting in response to the arrests of two al-Awamiyah septuagenarians were provoked by police firing at them with live ammunition. On 4 October, he called for calm, stating, “The [Saudi] authorities depend on bullets … and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice”. He explained further, “We do not accept [the use of firearms]. This is not our practice. We will lose it. It is not in our favour. This is our approach [use of words]. We welcome those who follow such [an] attitude. Nonetheless, we cannot enforce our methodology on those who want to pursue different approaches [and] do not commit to ours. The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of bullets.”
In January 2012, he called on authorities to “stop bloodshed”, predicting that the government would be overthrown if it continued its “month-long crackdown” against protestors. He criticised a list of 23 alleged protestors published by the Ministry of Interior. The Guardian described him as having “taken the lead in [the] uprising”.
On 8 July 2012 Saudi police shot al-Nimr in the leg and arrested him in what police described as an “exchange of gunfire.” Saudi police fired into a crowd of thousands who protested al-Nimr’s arrest, killing two men, Akbar al-Shakhouri and Mohamed al-Felfel. Al-Nimr started a hunger strike and appeared to have been tortured. The Asharq Center for Human Rights expressed concern for al-Nimr’s health during his hunger strike on 21 August, calling for international support to allow access by family, lawyer and human rights activists.
Al-Nimr’s wife, Muna Jabir al-Shariyavi, died in a New York hospital while he was imprisoned. Two thousand people attended the funeral in Safwa on the evening of 30/31 August, called for al-Nimr to be unconditionally freed, for all Shia and Sunni detainees to be freed, and chanted “Down with Hamad”, “Bahrain Free Free, Peninsula Shield out”.
On 15 October 2014 al-Nimr was sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court for “seeking ‘foreign meddling’ in Saudi Arabia, ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces.” His brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, was arrested on the same day for tweeting information about the death sentence. Al-Nimr was executed on or shortly before 2 January 2016, along with 46 others. His execution was condemned by Iran and Shiites throughout the Middle East, as well as by Western figures and Sunnis opposed to sectarianism. The Saudi government did not give his body to his family, saying that they already buried all the bodies.
There have been several demonstrations in response to the execution. People in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have taken to the streets with protesters marching from Nimr’s hometown of al-Awamiyah to Qatif, chanting, “Down with the Al Saud”. On January 2, the same day of the execution, numerous protesters gathered outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran which was on fire after one person threw homemade firebombs at the embassy. The protests continued beyond 3 am in the morning.Iran police arrested 40 protesters for raiding the embassy.
Hundreds of people held a protest rally in the Bahraini capital Manama. Demonstrators carrying pictures of Sheikh Nimr were involved in a clash with police in the Bahraini village of Abu-Saiba. Hundreds also marched in al-Daih and Sitra, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family and the Sunni family ruling Bahrain, and calling Nimr “our martyr”.
Peacful demonstrations occured in Iranian holy cities of Qom and Mashhad, as well as in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, India’s Jammu and Kashmir, and Turkey.
Reference: Nimr al-Nimr