Dozens of Houthi demonstrators protested in front of the Saudi embassy in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Saturday calling for the release of a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was sentenced to death by a Saudi court this week, a Reuters witness said.
Yemeni security and military forces blocked both sides of the street in front of the embassy and watched the demonstration.
Sheikh Nimr, who has repeatedly criticized the lack of basic freedoms in Saudi Arabia and has called for greater rights for Saudi minorities, including the Shia, was convicted on Wednesday of multiple charges, including “delivering anti-government speeches” and “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” and was sentenced to death by The Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s “terrorism tribunal.”
The widely revered cleric was detained in July 2012 after backing mass pro-democracy protests that erupted in February 2011 in the Qatif district of eastern Saudi Arabia, which is home to many of the country’s marginalized Shia minority.
Following the verdict, mass protests started out on the streets of Awamiyeh and Qatif in Saudi Arabia in solidarity with Nimr on Wednesday.
According to Lebanese news channel al-Manar, Saudi security forces responded with live bullets to disperse protesters. No casualties were reported.
Similarly, protesters carrying photos of Nimr took to the streets of Bahrain Wednesday to express support of the sheikh and his family.
The peaceful protests were also met with a fierce military crackdown as Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition and toxic gas bombs at the protesters, al-Manar reported.
The death sentence drew intense criticism from international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHCR).
The Houthis, who demand more rights for the third of Yemen’s 25 million people who follow the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, took control of the capital on Sept. 21 after they advanced on the capital from the country’s north over recent months.