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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stop the anti-Shia prejudice, cleric tells Saudi king

Tue, 24 Feb 2009 23:22:09 GMT

Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) mosque in Medina.?
Shia cleric Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar has appealed to the Saudi king to bring a halt to "insults" by the kingdom's Sunni religious police, as clashes between Shias and police continue.

The clashes between Shia pilgrims and Saudi police began on Friday evening after the kingdom's religious police filmed female Shia pilgrims outside the al-Baqee Cemetery in Medina, which contains the graves of revered Shia Imams.

When five male relatives of the women demanded the police turn over the tapes, there was a scuffle and the men were arrested, according to a witness who requested anonymity.

The same witness said that 3,000-4,000 pilgrims gathered outside the cemetery, demanding their release. But riot police used batons to disperse the crowd. Sunni onlookers also joined the fray, attacking Shia pilgrims.

Shias, who are a minority of Saudi Arabia's 22 million people, are considered infidels under the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and experience discrimination at the hands of the religious police. Shias regularly complain they have been banned from working as officers of the religious police, teaching classes on religion, and a number of other jobs. Outspoken Shia critics have even been jailed.

The clashes spurred Sheikh al-Saffar to appeal to the king to put an immediate stop to the anti-Shia insults and discrimination of the religious police. He said the treatment of Shias at the cemetery violates "Islamic morals and human rights" and the tolerance called for by an interfaith conference the king attended a few months ago.

He went on to say that Shia "visitors are generally harshly treated... and holy books are confiscated," which makes pilgrimages and religious visits "subject to sectarian tensions."

Meanwhile, Medina police say the five were arrested and charged with causing a disturbance at the cemetery gate after being told visitation hours were over. In Saudi Arabia, all women are banned from visiting cemeteries and special viewing areas are created for them.

On Tuesday, another nine were taken into custody after police again attacked the pilgrims who were visiting the cemetery to mark the anniversary of the death of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him and his family).

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