Amnesty concluded that Saudi security forces had arbitrarily detained protesters, held many without charge or trial, beaten and tortured some, and engaged in a “state policy” to have protesters fired from their jobs.
Government officials denied the allegations. Turki said security officials have handled the protests, which he calls “riots,” with professional restraint.
He said that Awamiya has typically seen much gun and drug crime, and that 32 officers have been shot since the protests began. Two of them have been killed.
“There are people who want to drive the police to clash with the public,” Turki said. “We try our best to avoid such provocations.”
Sulais said the police are simply obeying government orders to crush demands that the Sunni leaders would rather not hear. He said his group had documented the shooting of 71 protesters, including 14 killed. Since last year, he said, police have arrested 723 people, and 162 of them are still jailed, including 61 children as young as 14.
Each side accuses the other of inflating the figures, and no independent tally exists in a country where government records are not public.
The July 8 shooting and arrest of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose sermons had inspired the protesters, reflects the two views of reality in Awamiya.
Police said Nimr, 53, was arrested for speeches that incited violence and advocated the Eastern Province’s secession from Saudi Arabia. They said they shot Nimr only after a bodyguard fired at them.
His brother, Mohammed al-Nemer (who spells his last name differently), said Nimr never traveled with a bodyguard and didn’t own a gun. He said Nimr never incited violence or urged secession and is being held in solitary confinement in a prison in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
“He supported demonstrations, and he also demonstrated himself,” Nemer said. “Does that mean you should go and shoot him? Who is violent here?”
Hours after Nimr’s arrest, hundreds of people gathered in the streets of Awamiya to protest, with men at the front and women in the rear, in typical Saudi-style gender segregation, said Batoul Alawi al-Awami, 24, one of the protesters.
Awami said that armored vehicles then appeared and that police started shooting into the crowd, killing her husband, Sayed Akbar Ali Shakhoury. Police counter that both sides were shooting and that it was impossible to know who killed Shakhoury.
“All he did was demand our rights,” his widow said.
‘They are afraid of the truth’
The killing of Labad and the two teens hangs over Awamiya. In Labad’s house, a warren of small rooms where several families live, more than 20 family members sat on the floor in a room beneath photos of Labad and Shiite religious leaders one recent night. They said Labad and his relatives were unarmed when police opened fire on them, and they were furious at assertions that the dead were criminals.
“We only come out to demand legitimate rights, and they call us terrorists,” said Labad’s sister, Ebtisam al-Labad, 30. “They are afraid of the truth. They don’t want people to speak. They want people to be like sheep.”
The next day, security officials made two wounded police officers available for interviews. One had been shot from behind in the leg, shattering his thigh bone, in March and is still on crutches. The other said he was driving four months ago when a man on a motorcycle pulled up next to his car and shot him three times. His right eye is gone, and his left arm is in a cast and sling.
Both officers said Labad had ambushed and shot them.
“They always say that. ‘That guy is a murderer. That guy is a criminal,’ ” said Sulais, the human rights activist. “They can say anything. But where is the evidence?”