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Saudi Shiite cleric tried for 'instigating unrest'

Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr was arrested in July last year following trouble in the kingdom's Eastern Province, where the Shiite community is concentrated.

RIYADH // A prominent Shiite cleric appeared in a Saudi court yesterday facing accusations he instigated unrest and sought foreign meddling in the country, a witness said.

Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr was arrested in July last year following trouble in the kingdom's Eastern Province, where the Shiite community is concentrated, and his trial before a special security court opened on Monday.

Yesterday, the prosecution read a list of charges against him including "instigating unrest" and "seeking foreign meddling", in a clear reference to Iran.

Sheikh Al Nimr was also accused of "supporting the rebellion in Bahrain", where a month of Shiite-led pro-reform protests erupted in February 2011 before they were suppressed in a Saudi-backed crackdown.

The court panel adjourned the hearing until a lawyer is appointed, according to the witness who requested anonymity.

Most of Saudi Arabia's estimated two million Shiites live in the east, where the vast majority of oil reserves lie. Shiites complain of marginalisation in the kingdom.

They first took to the streets in protest in February 2011 after an outbreak of violence between Shiite pilgrims and religious police in Medina.

The protests escalated after the kingdom's intervention in Bahrain.

Speaking in November 2011, after four Shiites were shot dead in Eastern province, Sheikh Al Nimr had demanded the "release of all those detained in the protests, and all prisoners of conscience, Sunnis and Shiites."

In a speech at the funeral of one of the protesters at the time, Sheikh Al Nimr said: "We are determined to demand our legitimate rights by peaceful means."

In a report published in May last year, Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia has arrested hundreds of Shiites, mainly men, but also children, since March 2011 for taking part in peaceful protests in the east.

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