Thousands of people stage rallies in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to mark the 40th day since the execution of prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia.
A protest was held in Qatif in the restive Eastern Province, where demonstrators chanted “Death to Al Saud” and “Down with the House of Saud” to denounce the ruling Saudi family for the execution.
The angry demonstrators said the Riyadh regime had the blood of innocent people on its hands.
The demonstration came a day after Sheikh Nimr’s family called on Saudi authorities to hand over his body.
The Saudi regime executed Sheikh Nimr on January 2, defying international calls to release him. The execution sparked international condemnations and angry protests in many countries.
Many of the residents of Qatif, located near major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, work for the state energy company Saudi Aramco.
Past protests have not led to attacks on the oil industry, but a bus used by Aramco to transport employees was set ablaze during a night rally in early January.
Shia Muslims have long complained of discrimination in a country where the official Wahhabi ideology condones violence against them.
The Shias face abuse sanctioned by Wahhabi clerics, rarely get permits for places of worship and seldom get senior public sector jobs.
Those basic complaints have over the years been aggravated by a heavy-handed crackdown against their community. The Shias accuse the authorities of unfair detentions and punishments, shooting unarmed protesters and torturing detainees.
The Shia-dominated Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners. They want an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.
On Thursday, similar protest rallies were held across neighboring Bahrain to condemn the execution of Sheikh Nimr.
Demonstrations were held on Sitra Island as well as in Bilad al-Qadim, a suburban area of the capital, Manama.
The rallies in Bahrain turned violent as security forces fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
The protesters also insisted on their demands for reforms and the release of all political prisoners.
Bahrainis have also announced plans to hold a nationwide strike and a series of massive rallies on Friday afternoon to express their anger at Nimr’s beheading. Almost all businesses and shops will remain closed across the country.
Bahrain has been the scene of anti-regime protests since February 2011. Bahraini regime forces have been harshly cracking down on the protesters ever since, killing scores of them. A large number of Bahraini activists are also languishing behind bars.