A Bahraini women holds up a portrait of prominent Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr during clashes with riot police following a protest in solidarity with Al-Nimr, in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, Bahrain, October 15, 2014. (Photograph Credit: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)
The 54-year-old Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, a figurehead of the Shia minority protests that have rumbled in Saudi Arabia since 2011, was sentenced to death on Wednesday morning, his brother announced on Twitter. Mohammed al-Nimr said his brother was found guilty by a Riyadh court of seeking “foreign meddling” [from Iran] in the kingdom, “disobeying” its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces. The verdict was the conclusion of a trial that began in March 2013, according to news agencies. The cleric was a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia’s restive Eastern Province in 2011. Al-Nimr was arrested in July 2012 when he was shot by security forces in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. His arrest triggered days of unrest. Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia, where many ultraconservatives view Shiites as heretics. Oil-rich Eastern Province is home to a Shia majority that has long complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni royal family. Protests began there in February 2011 after the start of the pro-democracy uprising in neighbouring Bahrain, which has a Shia majority and a Sunni royal family. The Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia and blame Iran for stirring up discontent. Al-Nimr was a key leader of Shiite protests demanding equal rights. He also openly criticized the Sunni government of Bahrain’s handling of Shiite protests there. Saudi Arabia sent troops to help Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy quell its Shiite uprising in the tiny island nation. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 1,040 people were detained in Shiite protests between February 2011 and August 2014. There are at least 280 still imprisoned.