By Syed Zafar Mehdi

Remembering Baqir al-Nimr, symbol of resistance

January 2, 2019

TEHRAN - “Either we live on this land as free men, or die and be buried in it as pious men. We have no other choice,” Sheikh Baqir al-Nimr famously said in 2011. He walked the talk, refused to pledge allegiance to the despotic rulers of his land, refused to accept humiliation, and chose to die with dignity and honor.

On Wednesday, people of the free world marked third martyrdom anniversary of this great flag bearer of resistance, the beloved leader of the campaigners of truth and justice, who laid down his life to uphold the lofty principles exemplified by his leader and the ‘master of martyrs’ in the desert plains of Karbala 1400 years ago.

On January 2, 2016, Saudi Arabian authorities executed 47 people, including Shaheed Nimr, on dubious charges like ‘disobeying the ruler’ and ‘encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations’. The trial was marked by many glaring inconsistencies and authorities blatantly violated his right to a fair trial. It was a brazen, deliberate miscarriage of justice.

Shaheed Nimr, who belonged to Shia-dominated Awamiyah village in Qatif region of Saudi Arabia, was a vocal critic of the despotic Saudi monarchy. He exercised his right to free speech to voice his resentment over the decades-long discrimination against Shias in the Kingdom. He fearlessly raised his voice against the brutalization and criminalization of dissent in his country.

In 2011, when the volcano of anger and outrage among Saudis erupted in country’s eastern province, Shaheed Nimr was seen as spearheading the movement for radical political reforms and an end to marginalization of minority Shias. The protests spread widely and the Saudi rulers saw it as a threat to their fiefdom.

A year later, without an arrest warrant, Shaheed Nimr was arrested and put behind bars. According to observers, Saudi authorities chased his car until he crashed, dragged him out of the car, and shot him in leg. With blood oozing from his leg, he was taken to the jail.

Shaheed Nimr was put in solitary confinement of a prison hospital and his family and friends were not given permission to meet him. He was denied proper medical attention for the injuries he sustained during his arrest, which resulted in his poor health condition and partial paralysis of his leg. It took many months for the hospital authorities to remove the bullet from his leg.

During the court hearings in 2013 and 2014, he was denied fair trial. His defense team was ill-equipped to counter the bogus charges against him and the judges failed to inform his defense counsels about hearing dates. His counsels were not allowed to cross-examine police officers that arrested him in an injured state, which was in violation of both Saudi and international laws. He was not even allowed a conversation with his lawyers.

On 15 October 2014, following a farcical judicial process, a Saudi court sentenced Shaheed Nimr to death for crimes related to free speech, disobeying the ruler, mobilizing masses against the regime, and encouraging pro-democracy demonstrations. His brother Mohammad al-Nimr was arrested after he tweeted about the death sentence.

In November 2014, many special rapporteurs issued a report to the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that Shaheed Nimr’s trial “did not meet the most stringent due process and fair trial guarantees.” They alleged that he was subjected to torture during his detention, and was denied medical attention.

The torture and lack of medical attention forced him to go on a hunger inside the jail, which further deteriorated his health condition.

Shaheed Nimr’s astounding popularity was demonstrated on the streets across the world. There were massive protests against the Saudi regime before and after his execution. While he was in custody, his wife Muna Jabir al-Shariyavi died in a New York hospital while mobilizing support for him. Importantly, the silence of U.S. and other Western powers over it amounted to complicity.

In October 2015, Saudi apex court ratified Shaheed Nimr’s sentence, ending all hopes of his survival. Then it was a foregone conclusion. On January 2 2016, he finally faced the gallows, with pride and a smile, like a true warrior.

His arrest, trial and execution were in clear violation of Article 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the country’s own constitution. His custodial torture was in violation of Article 15 of the Convention against Torture (CAT).

Amnesty International said the sentence was carried out “after grossly unfair trial” and said there were “questions about the fairness of the trial is a monstrous and irreversible injustice”.

“The killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr suggests they (Saudi regime) are using the death penalty in the name of counter-terror to settle scores and crush dissidents,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, following Shaheed Nimr’s execution.

His family was even denied the right to give him a proper funeral. He was secretly buried by Saudi officials without informing his family.

Meanwhile, according to a latest report by UK-based human rights group Reprieve, the prosecutions for political crimes have increased under crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman and that “at least 54 people are facing death sentences for opposing the regime, of which 30 are at risk of imminent execution.”

One of them is Ali al-Nimr, Shaheed Nimr’s nephew, who was framed under dubious charges of participating in pro-democracy rallies in 2012 at the age of 17, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

Ali al-Nimr’s planned execution, according to Reprieve, is “based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests, would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”

If we don’t raise our voice for the young Nimr, he will also meet the same fate as his uncle. Time is now.

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