Executed Saudi cleric was charismatic Shi'ite advocate
SHI'ITE Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, was a charismatic religious leader who delivered fiery speeches demanding more rights for his minority in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
He was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the kingdom's east, an oil-rich region where an estimated two million Shi'ites live what they call a marginalised life.
The 56-year-old had travelled to Shi'ite-majority Iran to study theology following the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Riyadh has repeatedly accused Iran of fuelling unrest in the kingdom and across the region and Teheran was the first to react to Nimr's death, warning that Saudi Arabia will pay "a high price" for executing him.
Nimr was shot in the thigh when he was arrested on July 8, 2012, being accused of "resisting the security forces".
The slightly built man, with a long white beard and glasses, was described by the Interior Ministry at the time as an "instigator of sedition" and his arrest had sparked protests and clashes with police in Shi'ite towns.
His death sentence was announced on Oct 15, 2014, for sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. Three days later, gunmen fired on a security patrol in the Shi'ite populated east, setting fire to an oil pipeline.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse on Saturday, Nimr's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, described the cleric as "a humble, religious man who lived a simple life, making him attractive to many youths".
His execution "will spark anger of (Shi'ite) youths" in Saudi Arabia, said Mr Mohammed, calling instead for a "peaceful protest movement".
Nimr returned from Iran in 1994 as a "faqih", or expert on Islamic law, and held a "special and distinct position" among Saudi Shi'ites, said Mr Mohammed.
Prior to his arrest, he preached regular sermons. On Fridays, the Muslim weekly day of worship, his sermons took on a political hue.
He was based at Imam Hussein Mosque in Awamiya, his home village, where protests and attacks on police are common.
He was also briefly detained on multiple occasions between 2003 and 2008 over his demands for the release of activists, allowing Shi'ite teaching in schools and giving Shi'ites more rights, according to his official website, www.sknemer.com, run by his family.
But it was in 2009 when he seriously angered authorities by calling for Eastern Province's Shi'ite-populated Qatif and Al-Ihsaa governorates to be separated from Saudi Arabia and be united with neighbouring Shi'ite-majority Bahrain.
Speaking in 2011 at the funeral of a protester shot dead in Eastern Province, Nimr said: "We are determined to demand our legitimate rights by peaceful means."
The last straw was in a video circulated on social media in 2012 in which Nimr made a speech celebrating the death of Interior Minister Nayef Abdulaziz.