Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal against the death sentence on a Shi’ite Muslim cleric who has been supporting pro-democracy demonstrators and whose 2012 arrest spurred protests in which three died.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr now has only one chance — a pardon from King Salman.
Reuters is quoting Nimr’s brother as saying the sentence was upheld after hearings that took place without the cleric’s lawyers or family members being given prior notice.
Nimr and six other Saudi Shi’ites including his nephew have been sentenced to die and then have their bodies publicly displayed in the most severe penalty available to judges in the strict Sunni majority kingdom.
“We don’t want anything to happen to him or to Ali or the other young men,” Nimr’s brother, Mohammed al-Nimr said.
Political analysts who follow Saudi Shi’ite politics have warned that widespread protests may erupt if the executions are carried out.
More than 20 Shi’ites were killed in protests between 2011 and 2013 in the Shi’ite district of Qatif against sectarian discrimination, Riyadh’s role in ending street demonstrations in Bahrain and the fate of previously detained local people.
Three of those were killed in protests in the two days after Nimr’s arrest, as well as one policeman.
The deaths were all officially described as coming after exchanges of fire prompted by shooting or petrol bomb attacks on police but local activists said many occurred during peaceful protests.
Nimr had long been regarded as the most vocal Shi’ite leader in Qatif, willing to publicly criticise the Al Saud ruling family and call directly for elections.
But he was careful to avoid calling for violence, analysts said.
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