SAUDI ARABIA

Shiites in S.Arabia: ‘They’re shooting at us randomly’

Protesters in Qatif on Sunday.
Protesters in Qatif on Sunday.

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For Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, life has never been easy – they face many forms of discrimination. However, since Saudi authorities executed a leading Shiite cleric this weekend, their situation has become markedly tenser. An Observer living in the eastern city of Qatif, home to the largest concentration of Shiites in the country, says that security forces have been shooting at random in order to quell protest.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed 47 prisoners accused of terrorism, including popular Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr and three other Shiite activists. Many of the other prisoners were Al-Qaeda militants. The cleric’s execution immediately resulted in flaring tensions with Iran, its regional rival and a Shiite-majority nation. In Tehran, protesters attacked the Saudi embassy, after which Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Iran.

But the execution also resulted in turmoil in Qatif, Al-Nimr’s home base. He was a vocal supporter of repeated anti-government protests in Qatif, where Shiites, which are a minority in the country but a majority in the region, have long complained of unfair treatment.

On Saturday, protests erupted in the city, with demonstrators demanding that the cleric’s body and those of the three other Shiites who were executed be returned to their hometown for burial. The authorities quickly sent in security forces, but this did not stop demonstrators from hitting the streets again on Sunday and Monday.

A small protest march in Qatif on Sunday night. 

“We're afraid that the worst is yet to come”

Ali (not his real name) is a Qatif resident.

On Sunday night, a few hours after that day’s protest march had ended, my friend Ali Omran Al Dawood was driving through the Al-Awamiya [Editor’s Note: the district from which the executed cleric hails, and which is the epicenter of the protests.] He stopped at a checkpoint. Witnesses said that a few protesters were nearby, and security officers started shooting all over the place. [Editor’s Note: Saudi authorities said that the officers had come under fire from an “unidentified source”.] My friend was killed by a bullet. He was a fisherman with three children – his family is in bad shape. [Editor’s Note: Al Dawood is the only victim confirmed dead as of Tuesday afternoon. Many injuries have been reported].

The victim, on his boat. Photo sent by our Observer. 

Several other people were wounded that day, including an 8-year-old boy who was looking out his home’s window; he was shot in the head and is still in the hospital.

Bullet holes in a car's windshield in Qatif. Our Observers sent us multiple photos of shot-up cars and buildings that they say were shot at by security forces in the past couple days. 

What’s interesting is that the security forces let the protest marches unfold, but afterwards, they send in armoured vehicles and start shooting randomly. They’ll shoot in the air, or in the direction of whoever is around. It’s like everyone here is their enemy!

Bullet holes above an apartment door.

To protect our neighbourhoods, young men regularly put up barricades of burning tyres, but of course this also gets them shot at. Machineguns versus burning tyres… it’s hardly fair.

The security forces haven’t arrested people, they’re not carrying out any raids – it seems that their aim is simply to terrorise everyone and scare them into stopping all protests.

Burqa-covered women protesting in Qatif. All videos and photos of protests sent by our Observers are careful to conceal protesters' identities, either by photographing burqa-covered women or by photographing the protesters' backs. 

Shiites in Qatif are very scared. The execution of Al-Nimr – who was not a terrorist, and always called for peaceful protests – was obviously a message from Saudi Arabia to Iran, but it was also a message to Shiites to stop protesting for their human rights. They want to keep us in our place as second-class citizens. We’re afraid that the worse is yet to come, that a major crackdown will take place. People are being very careful – most Shiites here are avoiding the use of social media, and keeping a low profile.

However, it’s quite likely that these protests will continue – and that the authorities’ repression will cause more injuries or deaths.

A funeral is scheduled to be held Tuesday night for our Observer’s friend.