Have We Forgotten Ali Nimr?

Arrested at 17 for attending pro-democracy protests, Ali Nimr faces execution in Saudi Arabia//ITV

Arrested at 17 for attending pro-democracy protests, Ali Nimr faces execution in Saudi Arabia//ITV

Written by: Zanab J.S. 

Nusra al-Ahmed has not seen her son outside of prison walls in 5 years. She describes each hour as "60 beats of pain," knowing that Ali Nimr could be executed at any moment without so much as a phone call.

Arrested at 17 in 2012, Ali Nimr was attending a pro-democracy march in Qatif when Saudi state police began an imminent clampdown on the mass of activists and protestors. Beaten badly and immediately handcuffed, Ali was stuffed into a truck and driven away from Qatif, unaware at the time that he would not see his hometown again. 

Accused of "stealing from a pharmacy, igniting a petrol bomb and rioting," Ali was never given the chance to present his defence, nor were any of the accusations substantiated against him.
Ali Nimr would sit in Saudi prison for 3 years facing interrogations, beatings, psychological and physical torture before a sentence would be applied to his case. In 2015, the same year Saudi Arabia would be inducted as the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ali Nimr would be sentenced to death. Specifically, public beheading and crucifixion--an arcane, ancient punishment reserved only for the worst of offenders. 

Ali's sentencing violates sacrosanct international law: under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, individuals cannot be executed for crimes committed as a minor. 

Human Rights, Shia Islam and Democracy in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of the world's foremost documented human rights violators. Having been announced as the greatest threat to children, and the nation to kill the most children in illegal acts of warfare, Saudi Arabia graced the U.N.'s blacklist of "child killer" countries for 3 days before the U.N. redacted their standing due to pressure from Riyadh. 

Executions are rampant in the kingdom; from petty theft, to accusations of murder result in immediate executions. In 2015 alone, the year of Ali Nimr's death sentencing, Saudi Arabia executed 151 people.

Slave and child labour, illegal executions, forced marriages and war crimes, Saudi Arabia's political fibre is imbued with perpetual human rights violations. The legal system presumes guilt upon accusation, and arrested persons are rarely informed of why they are going to jail. Presenting a fair legal defence is all but impossible in the shadowy kingdom. 

Saudi Arabia is ruled by the Al-Saud family, a collection of historic billionaires comprised of some of the richest people on earth. With a monopoly on oil production and airtight relations with the United States, United Kingdom, and powerful members of the EU, Saudi Arabia's mistreatment of religious minorities, women, the LGBTQ community, and activists is often overlooked in favour of continuing strong diplomatic relationships. Respect for the royal family is paramount. Any threat to their rule is decimated on sight. With portraits of the ruling family on buildings and billboards in every district, city and province, constituents of the kingdom are regularly reminded of where they stand. 

Religious freedom is all but entirely limited in Saudi Arabia. A dictatorial theocracy at best, and aristocracy at worst, the framework of the KSA is built upon Wahhabism, a major thread of Sunni Islam, which--as practiced in Saudi Arabia--rejects the legal validity of non-Muslims and minority sect Muslims.

In Saudi Arabia, Shia Muslims are the prime target under theocratic policies. 

Domestically Shia Muslims are terrorized by "religious" and state police who monitor their activities in the eastern province of Qatif where most Shias--like Ali--reside.

On top of crippling limitations faced by Saudi citizens, Shia Muslims experience an additional murderous onslaught from the Saudi government. Textbooks in schools portray Shia Muslims as members of society which must be killed in order to preserve "true" Islam. Shias living away from Qatif, and especially those in proximity to the capital, live in a perpetual state of hiding, pretending to be Sunni in school and at work. Painted as an inherent enemy, Saudi Arabia employs Sunni supremacy in the most lethal of ways to repress their Shia minority. 

"These brutal executions are the latest act in the Saudi Arabian authorities’ ongoing persecution of the Shi’a minority. The death penalty is being deployed as a political weapon to punish them for daring to protest against their treatment and to cow others into silence."
-Lynn Maalouf, Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut office

Amnesty International reports that executions are a primary tool used to terrorize Shia Muslims and prevent them from protesting their mistreatment and decrying Saudi's support for anti-Shia organizations.

Internationally, Saudi Arabia has funded countless terrorist Sunni supremacist organizations which seek to decimate Shia Muslims, and of course, non-Muslims and minority sect Muslims. The primary ideology of ISIS and their Shia genocide can easily be traced to the state sanctioned religion practiced in Saudi Arabia. 

America and other allies enforce Saudi's sectarianism. 

Unlike the messages of support received by Egyptians, Libyans and Syrians by the Obama administration and various British and Canadian parliamentarians, protests and calls for democratic reform from Shia Arabs were not addressed by the world's most "democratic" nations.

In fact, the Shia Arab spring was not broadcast in majority of countries aligned with the kingdom. The hundreds of thousands mostly Shia Bahrainis protesting in Manama barely made it onto TV in the Western world, while Qatif's protests and resulting police violence remains unheard of. 

Countries claiming to support democratic revolutions ignored calls for help from Shia Arabs. Nations claiming to "protect democracy and promote human rights in the middle-east" ended up financing the military equipment being used against Shias in Saudi Arabia. 

As a young, Shia Muslim and pro-democracy activist, Ali Nimr is the poster-child for Saudi Arabia's brand of preventative execution; what better a way to quell any hint of dissent or pro-democracy from young Shias and activists in general than to crucify Ali? Who would follow in the footsteps of an activist whose path ultimately led to beheading? 

Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, Appeals and International Silence

Late Sheikh Nimr, executed in 2016 for advocating anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia//ALALAM NEWS NETWORK

Late Sheikh Nimr, executed in 2016 for advocating anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia//ALALAM NEWS NETWORK

It is a likely possibility Ali Nimr's death sentence is not entirely a matter of the protest in 2012, or the Arab spring by which Shias in Qatif were invigorated. Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, renowned Shia pro-democracy activist and religious scholar, was executed in January 2016 for his massively influential campaigns to reform Saudi Arabia. Accused of "terrorism" and never allowed a proper defence or trial, Sheikh Nimr--Ali's biological uncle--is thought to be one of the obvious reasons Ali Nimr is facing such punishment. It is perhaps this relation upon which the weight of Ali's sentence is placed. 

The international community of Saudi allies, business partners and advocates initially shied away from Ali Nimr's situation. Through persistent activism, several political figures began the initial inquiry to Riyadh's decision. Toothless remarks from Canada, the United States and the U.K. came as no surprise to those aware of Saudi Arabia's influence. 

Ali Nimr's mother begged the Obama administration for intervention in 2015 but received no response. Various petitions garnered thousands of signatures, but Ali's story never headlined or made it to the front page as it so desperately needed to. Even Jeremy Corbyn's public demand that David Cameron involve himself with Riyadh in Ali Nimr's case resulted only in a few days of trending on Twitter.

By 2015 it had become clear that even the final appeal, for which Ali's parents were the most hopeful, would be rejected. 

And it was. Ali's fate was sealed a year later when the final appeal of his death sentence declared null. As of now, Ali awaits beheading and crucifixion for unsubstantiated crimes he was convicted of as a minor--a blatant violation of human rights law so highly revered by Saudi's staunch allies. 

The outcry surrounding Ali Nimr has been muffled by some of the most powerful countries on earth--his imminent execution has made clear the hypocrisy of the world's 'guardians' of human rights. The United States only sees human rights violations in its enemies, rarely in its allies, and never in Saudi Arabia. Canada enables human rights violations in Saudi Arabia by manufacturing the very military equipment used to brutalize Shia dissidents--all the while declaring Canadian laws as the standard of global human rights. 

Ali Nimr is the embodiment of Saudi's youth: restless, furious and undeniably selfless. At 17 Ali stood up to the most powerful monarchy on earth. At 22, Ali will stand up again--this time to an unlawful execution for unsubstantiated crimes. 

His father once said he can "feel the sword against Ali's neck", and certainly that has never been more true than today. With his fate all but sealed, Ali's only hope is locked in public outcry from every corner of the world; the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not bend to one country, but it is possible it may bend to many. 

The question is, can we save Ali Nimr? Will we stand for Ali Nimr? Will those who claim to champion democracy come forward to help Ali Nimr?

For inquiries regarding this article, contact Zanab J.S. @zanabism