On 20 November, a collection of 17 organizations and two individuals working on behalf of human rights and international religious freedom sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to pressure Saudi Arabian King, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to halt the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, along with several other demonstrators from the country’s marginalized Eastern Province.
On 24 October 2015, the Saudi Supreme Court ratified the sentence of death issued to Sheikh Nimr in October 2014; since September, the Saudi criminal justice system has also ratified the death sentences of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, three men arrested as minors in 2012 for their protest activity.
Many of the charges on which the men were convicted are not recognized by international law, and the trials of Sheikh Nimr and the others as “grossly unfair” due to ongoing and credible allegations of torture, as well as lack of due process. Furthermore, in sentencing Sheikh Nimr, the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, considered sermons made by the cleric as evidence against him, despite independent analysis confirming that Sheikh Nimr did not incite others to violence in his preaching.
The letter urges Secretary John Kerry to leverage his “close relationship with King Salman to press him to grant Sheikh al-Nimr access to any medical attention that he requires, commute his death sentence, as well as those of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, and order a fair trial for each of them.”
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry,
We write to you in regards to Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, an imprisoned political activist and Shia Muslim
religious scholar in Saudi Arabia, whom we fear is at imminent risk of execution. On 24 October 2015, the family of Sheikh al-Nimr discovered that the Supreme Court has upheld the cleric’s death sentence and has sent his case to the Ministry of Interior for implementation of the sentence. We ask that you publicly call on King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to stay Sheikh al-Nimr’s execution, drop all charges against him that are based solely on his peaceful criticism of the Saudi Arabian authorities, and order a new trial that guarantees him a fair hearing.
During his detention and trial, the Saudi Arabian authorities repeatedly violated Sheikh al-Nimr’s due process rights. Security forces violently arrested the then-53-year-old cleric in July 2012, shooting him multiple times. After holding Sheikh al-Nimr for months without charge, the authorities brought him to trial before the Specialized Criminal Court, the kingdom’s anti-terrorism tribunal. The cleric’s trial was grossly unfair. The judge prevented him from adequately preparing his defense, meeting with his lawyer, and exercising his right to crossexamine witnesses – specifically his arresting officers, who did not testify in open court but whose written testimony the judge deemed admissible as evidence against the cleric. During this time period, the Saudi Arabian authorities denied Sheikh al-Nimr access to adequate medical care, failing to properly treat his paralyzed right leg and remove a bullet from his body until February 2015.
On 15 October 2014, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr to death on a number of
vague charges, including “disobeying and breaking allegiance to the ruler,” “calling to overthrow the regime,”
“calling for demonstrations,” “inciting sectarian strife,” “questioning the integrity of the judiciary,” “meeting
with and supporting wanted suspects,” and “interfering in a neighboring state’s affairs” (in reference to
Bahrain). Some of these should not be offenses at all, because they criminalize the peaceful exercise of human rights; and others violate the principle of legality in international law as they are vague and broad.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is one of at least four Saudi Arabian Shia Muslims who were sentenced to death by the
Specialized Criminal Court, and whose death sentences the Supreme Court has recently upheld. Three others, Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, all participated in protests and were juveniles at the time of their arrest. They were also sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials and based on “confessions” which they state were extracted under torture. Ali al-Nimr is the nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
The family of Sheikh al-Nimr, local activists, and community members have expressed their grave concern that Sheikh al-Nimr’s execution may cause upheaval in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, whose Shia residents have suffered economic and political marginalization for decades.
In light of these concerns, we urge you to leverage your close relationship with King Salman to press him to
grant Sheikh al-Nimr access to any medical attention that he requires, commute his death sentence, as well as those of Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, and order a fair trial for each of them.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Center for Inquiry (CFI)
European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR)
European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
Human Rights Foundation
Human Rights Watch
Hindu American Foundation (HAF)
International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF)
Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA)
Muslim Public Affairs Council
PEN American Center
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Shia Rights Watch (SRW)
Dr. Toby Matthiesen
Senior Research Fellow in the International Relations of the Middle East, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford
William C. Walsh
Partner, Bisceglie and Walsh