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The oppressed Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, and the urgent need of legal and constitutional solutions

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The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) is concerned over the Shiite minority situation in Saudi Arabia, after decades of systematic hate speech by official religious institutions against Shiite minority. Moreover, due to sectarian discrimination practices by official agencies, the coexistence of the Shiite minority in Saudi today is a confirmed threat and danger on a daily basis. Consequently, on 03/11/2014, a group of terrorists opened fire on a Shiite crowd at Shiite shrine (AlMustafa) in (Aldaloh) village in the AlAhsa province east of Saudi Arabia. The Shiite crowd was celebrating the anniversary of Imam Hussain peace be upon him, seven were killed; nine wounded including children and all were unarmed. This unfortunate crime is actually an indication and a result of the Wahhabi extremist’s ideology in Saudi Arabia. The risk has escalated like never before, as the Saudi Shiite received threats from inside and outside of Saudi including a threat on 13/11/2014 by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The ESOHR believes that the weakening of Shiite minority is due to several factors, including:

1. Exclusion from official influential positions in the administration and political decision.

2. Unrecognition of the Shia doctrine on a constitutional and legal level.

3. Advocating and supporting the hate speech and to the citizens/residents against the Shiites and encouraging a social isolation and boycott. A Saudi court has sentenced the human rights activist Mekhlef AlShammari for 2-year in prison and 200 lashes due to (meeting and sitting down with Shiites and expressing his condolences to them), and a social event on 13/08/2012 was canceled by the Emirate of Eastern Province. It was supposed to be hosted by Shiite and Sunni activists to bring the two communities together and closer.

4. The official mainstream media has not only neglected the Shiites, but even publishing hate speech. There are many articles against Shiites, which criminalize; betray and takfeer [1] them.

5. A deteriorating human rights situation through the systematic targeting of civil societies and institutions in the absence of an official legislative law to establish civil organizations. Also, closing down human rights organizations, criminalizing and punishing the founded and co-founded in prison. The human rights violations have increased by imprisoning opponents and activists, as for the cleric and political opponent Sheikh Nimr AlNimr, who was sentenced to death on 15/10/2014, due to his demands concerning the rights of Shiites. Another the Shiite cleric, Sheikh Tawfiq AlAmer, was sentenced in 13/08/2014 to 8- year due to demanding an end to discrimination against the Shia.

6. The geographical isolation of the Shia population in a limited area and even shrinking their area, and giving a large portions to other Sunni neighboring. The Qatif’s population is mostly Shiite and represent the majority, for this reason, it is one of the most important Shiite presence areas in Saudi. Yet, the Qatif area has shrunk by 77% of the Original due to systematic operations, where it used to approximately 2600 km2 in the founding of the Saudi state in 1932 and currently down to 588 km2. Such a dramatic change had led to increasing population density to be the highest in Saudi Arabia, 878 citizens per km2 where the average is 15 people in Saudi Arabia in 2013. Moreover, Qatif deprived of many services and facilities such as a university, although it contains the largest student population to its population and despite the persistent demands of citizens.

The ESOHR believes it is clear today the urgency to pass laws to protect the Shiite minority and granted full rights, but in reality it is long overdue, through:

1. Constitutional recognition and official acknowledgment of the Shiite denomination, this includes respect and fairness in practice in all governments’ bodies and institutions.

2. Revoking legal; regulations and procedures that violate or insult Shiite denomination and its followers.

3. Replace the religion curriculum in schools and universities with a fair ideology to all citizens.

4. Allowing the jurisprudence according to the Shiite jurisprudence and the granting the right of religious study without obstacles or threats.

5. Permission to build mosques; religious centers and Shiite shrine without obstacles or complications.

6. Free exercise of religion

7. Inclusion of the religious and cultural identity in the official mainstream media.

8. Banning the financing of satellite channels that broadcast hatred and sectarianism, and closing the existing channels’ offices in Saudi Arabia.

9. Allowing Shiite to be in senior positions such as ministers and ambassadors.

The problem in Saudi Arabia today is not related to the community, where Sunni and Shiite citizens have been demanding legislation which criminalize incitement and hatred, but rather than to the government that has not made a decision yet to grant the Shiite minority a full civilian rights. As a result of such a neglect, it has reflected in the development of the Shiites in term of religious; educational; economic and security sectors that are governed by the state.

We in ESOHR appreciate the security efforts that led to arrest 77 extremists linked to terrorist crime in AlAhsa province, but this procedure does not address the root causes nor live up to the danger posed by the extremism and terrorism. Particularly, if you take into consideration that some of the extremists were former prisoners and graduate from counseling program. Also, the number of 77 arrested terrorists is a serious indication of the willingness of larger numbers to target Shiites.

An escalating concern in Saudi is due to the risk sources that are being fed through the media and religious schools, as statistics indicates that there are 2500 Saudi fighters in ISIS and this potentially indicates the presence of more members at Saudi who are ready to target Shiites.

We in the ESOHR express our concern over the collapse of civil peace and security in Saudi Arabia, in light of the failure to take effective and urgent measures to correct previous mistakes, avoid current and future threats. Addressing terrorism that is targeting Shiites is easier to achieve today than tomorrow. Thus, we call on the Saudi government to address the obvious danger, call on the international community to be aware of the growing danger that surrounds the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia and take the necessary measures in case of failure by the Government of Saudi Arabia.


[1] Wikipedia: In Islamic law, takfir or takfeer (Arabicتكفير takfīr) refers to the practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring a non-Muslim or an apostate, an unbeliever or kafir (pl. kuffār). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takfir

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