Australians demand freedom for condemned Sheikh

Protesters at the Free Sheik al-Nimr rally on November 9, Melbourne. Photo: Fine Capture Photography

This speech was given by Tony Iltis of Socialist Alliance to a rally in Melbourne on November 8, calling on the Saudi government to free dissident Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. Al-Nimr is a popular Shia sheikh who has been critical of Saudi authorities, suggesting in a 2009 sermon that the Eastern Province would secede if its Shia population's rights were not respected. Between 15% and 25% of the Saudi population is Shia, mostly in the Eastern Province, and many say they suffer official discrimination in Saudi Arabia.

In 2011, al-Nimr took part in anti-government protests, where he criticised the policies of sectarian discrimination against Shia in Saudi Arabia and called for reform and equality. A warrant for his arrest was issued soon after.

On July 8, 2012 he was arrested in an “exchange of gunfire” with police and charged with “instigating unrest”. He was sentenced to death on October 15 by the Specialised Criminal Court for “seeking foreign meddling [in Saudi Arabia], disobeying its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces”.

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The Socialist Alliance opposes the death penalty, opposes persecution of people for their political beliefs and supports freedom of religious belief.

The Socialist Alliance calls for the release of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, not only because the idea of publicly beheading dissidents (or publicly beheading anyone) has no place in any 21st century legal system, but also because the "crime" that Sheikh al-Nimr was condemned for ― calling for freedom of religious belief not only for his own Shia Muslim community, but for all people of all beliefs ― shouldn't be considered a controversial call in the 21st century.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exhibits all the worst traits of an extremely intolerant interpretation of the Islamic religion, but is one of Australia's, and the West's, closest allies in the region.

Islamophobia and racism at home, imperial wars and support for apartheid Israel's aggression abroad, are justified by a racist caricature of the Islamic faith of which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the worst example. Where else are women not allowed to drive?

Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr is a Muslim cleric who called for all religious beliefs to be respected. The main US ally in the Arab world has sentenced him to be publicly decapitated for calling for this.

The Socialist Alliance calls on the Australian government to demand the release of Sheikh al-Nimr and calls on Australian politicians and the corporate media to stop using Saudi brutality to promote Islamophobia but instead to end all strategic alliances with the Saudis.

Australia has embarked on a new US-led imperial war in the name of fighting ISIS. The brutality of ISIS is undeniable: they boast about their atrocities on social media and put out horrific videos with severed heads as props. They boast about their genocidal intolerance towards an absurdly wide range of religious and ethnic communities. Yet the main Arab ally in the US-led coalition against ISIS is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is so intolerant that Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr is on death row for calling for religious freedom.

Government propaganda says we have to join the US-led war against ISIS because they publicly cut off people’s heads for stupid reasons.

They do. But how can anyone believe the official story when our main Arab ally is Saudi Arabia?

Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr is not alone in facing this barbaric fate at the hands of the Saudi Kingdom. It is a world leader at beheading. According to Human Rights Watch, the rate of beheading is increasing: the total for this year now stands at 59, compared to 69 for all of last year.

Saudi Arabia beheads people for all sorts of crimes, which in other countries either aren't crimes or are considered petty. Even crimes such as sorcery and witchcraft. They stage public sadistic witchcraft executions in the 21st century, but are supposed to be the West’s allies against the backward-looking genocidal barbarism of ISIS.

Australia's ally in the war against ISIS is the Saudi government. Yet in Australia, domestic “anti-terror” laws are justified by ISIS violence and appeals to Islamophobic sentiments — which feeds off Saudi barbarism — but are actually used to criminalise political views among migrants and refugees from countries where politics is marked by armed civil conflict or foreign aggression.

Armed movements against tyranny or foreign occupation or for national liberation are listed under "anti-terror" laws even when they pose no threat to Australia.

Officially, the Western air-war is seeking local allies to substitute for Western ground troops. But organisations that have scored wins against ISIS such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Hezbollah in Lebanon are prescribed under Australian, US, European Union and United Nations “anti-terror” laws.

Socialist Alliance calls for the delisting of groups that pose no threat to Australia such as PKK, Hezbollah, Hamas (who are resisting Israeli apartheid and genocide in Palestine) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (resisting the genocidal Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lankan state).

Socialist Alliance also calls for:
. freedom for Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr,
. freedom for all Arab people and migrant workers persecuted by the Saudi Kingdom,
. end Australia's ties with Saudia Arabia,
. end racist police-state laws and religious persecution in Australia,
. end criminalisation of support for local anti-ISIS resistance movements, and
. end the imperial war.

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