The ruling royal family are followers of a strict form of Sunni Islam. The Shia minority have long complained that the government discriminates against them. Along with other human rights organizations the Islamic Human Rights Commission(HRC),
asked the UN to intervene and prevent him from being executed. All-Nimr is said to be the most respected Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia. Many fear his execution could set off violent demonstrations across the middle east and in particular in the areas of eastern Saudi Arabia where the Shia form a majority. The HRC
, an NGO based in London, said:
"It is a severe blight on the reputation of this office if it is not able to work to protect the rights of individuals to free speech, to protest, to practise their religion, to a fair trial, to not be subjected to torture, and the right to life."
The representative of Bahraini Shia leader, Shaykh Ali Salman
said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was told of the execution at a meeting in Ryadh, the Saudi capital, on May 6: “John Kerry expressed his surprise to President Barack Obama over the decision made by the House of Saud, and by their silence they gave the green light to Saudi Arabia to go ahead with the execution.” Former Bahraini Shiite MP Jawad Fayruz claimed since Saudi Arabia is backed by the U.S. and the UK, just one word from officials from either country might very well save Nimr's life. He also said the case is politically oriented and related to the recent overthrow of President Hadi of Yemen who was supported by the Saudis, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the United States. He was overthrown by Houthi Shiite rebels.
Al-Nimr was sentenced to death in October 2014 for "disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife, and encouraging, leading, and participating in demonstrations." Said Boumedouha,
who is deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North African programme said “the death sentence against Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr is part of a campaign by the authorities in Saudi Arabia to crush all dissent, including those defending the rights of the Kingdom’s Shiite Muslim community.”
There have been protests against the execution in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India, and Iraq. Iran saw
large demonstrations in several cities. Al Nimr was to be executed
on May 14 according to reports but it appears to have been postponed. An informed source
told Iranian Fars news agency: "Saudi officials informed Sheikh Nimr's family that they have delayed the execution of Sheikh Nimr."