Sheikh Nimr Baqer al-Nimr, 56, was put to death at a time of rising of tensions between the Middle East’s Shia and Sunni.
Turbaned Ayatollah Nimr Baqer al-Nimr was known for speaking his mind, even at the risk of his own liberty and life.
“Either we live in this land as free men or die and be buried in it as pious men,” Sheikh al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia’s most prominent Shia cleric, said in a 2011 sermon that brought him international attention. “We have no other choice.”
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed the 56-year-old cleric along with 46 others convicted of various terrorism and security charges.
Most of those put to death were alleged members of jihadi groups and masterminds of terrorist plots a decade ago, as well as Faris al-Shuwail, described as an Al Qaeda “ideologue.”
In a country where security officials closely monitor signs of dissent, Nimr appeared to revel in insulting the Saudi royals who have run the Arabian peninsula for a century.
Following the death of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef he urged followers to rejoice. “He will be eaten by worms and suffer the torments of hell in his grave,” he said.
But he also sought to give voice to the plight of the country’s Shia minority, which lives in the peninsula’s oil-rich east but benefits far less than other parts of the country from the kingdom’s resources. Few, if any, Shia are entrusted with national or local official jobs and many are closely surveilled. Nimr was jailed numerous times before his final arrest and trial.
“From the day I was born to this day I have never felt safe and secure in this country,” he said in one speech. “You are always being accused of something. You are always under threat,” he said in a sermon.