Thousands of Shias protested against Saudi Arabia’s ruling al-Saud family at the funeral of a wanted man shot dead by police, a killing that ended months of relative calm in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.
At least 20 people have been shot dead in Eastern Province since early 2011, when Shias there staged protests against the involvement of Saudi forces in ending demonstrations in neighboring Bahrain, whose population is majoritarily Shia.
Mursi al-Rebah, 38, previously described as a wanted man connected with unrest in the east, died on Saturday after what police said was a shootout with security forces. He had been earlier identified as Ibrahim al-Rebah.
“Death to al-Saud,” the crowd chanted in a large procession on Wednesday night, according to several videos posted on YouTube.
The footage showed thousands of young and old men, many in traditional Saudi garb and including some with turbans worn by Muslim clerics, marching down a street in the town of Awamiya.
“Retribution from those who fire bullets,” and “Trial, trial for the criminal gang,” they also chanted.
Two activists, both residents of the area, confirmed the videos’ authenticity, and said the number of participants in the funeral was actually much higher than had been captured on tape.
Rebah was one of two people killed last week. Local police said the second man, identified by activists as Ali al-Mahrous, was shot late on Friday in an exchange of fire with a suspect, but not found until Saturday morning.
A smaller crowd attended Mahrous’s funeral, which also took place on Wednesday.
It was not immediately possible to reach a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman to comment on the events.
Saudi Arabia last year ordered the arrest of 23 people in the Eastern Province, saying they were responsible for unrest.
The Eastern Province is home to many of the kingdom’s minority Shias, who have long complained of discrimination in a country that hews to the rigid Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.
Shias say they are passed over for government jobs, that some of their neighborhoods lack investment afforded to Sunni districts and that powerful government-paid clerics publicly denigrate their faith. The authorities deny discrimination.