Saudi Shiite clerics condemn violence in restive Qatif


A number of Saudi Shiite clerics this week have condemned the violence that has rocked the Eastern Province of the country in recent months.

The restive area of Qatif, a stronghold of Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority, has witnessed repeated confrontations between protesters and security forces.

“We ask the people of this town to stand firmly against violence in all shapes and forms, and to condemn transgressions against lives and property,” the clerics said in a statement released Sunday.

The statement, signed by seven senior clerics from Qatif, also called on residents to verify news before circulating them on social media websites, accusing those who circulate unconfirmed rumors of intending to “cause strife and create chaos.”

In July of this year, police arrested and injured a firebrand Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who used Friday sermons at his mosque to urge demonstrations against the government. Three young men were killed in the protests following his arrest.

Eleven people have been killed in the Qatif area since November in protests. The Saudi government maintains that those were killed in exchanges of fire, but local activists insist that the protests were peaceful.

The government accuses protesters of serving foreign parties -- a reference understood to mean Iran -- which the Saudi government blames of fomenting unrest in the region.

Salman al-Jishi, a businessman based in the Eastern Province, told Al Arabiya that the statement of the Shiite clerics is “a way to reaffirm the Shiite sect's loyalty to Saudi Arabia.”