Questions Over Death of Protester In Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province

As-Safir tells the story of Ahmed al-Matar, a Saudi youth killed by security forces during a peaceful protest in Saudi Arabia.

al-monitor Anti-government protesters run towards Farooq Junction formerly known as Pearl Square after breaking barriers set up by police during a protest in Budaiya west of Manama, Feb. 13, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed.

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protests, demonstrations

Jan 24, 2013

The case of the nine Saudis accused of perpetrating the Khobar bombings, who have been held for over 17 years without trial, sparked the protests that began in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in February 2011. However, the death of the first victim, Nasser al-Muhayshi, by police fire in November of the same year triggered a new phase of protests. These protests have continued ever since and included violent clashes between the two sides.

The number of people killed so far in the Saudi popular movements has reached 15. In some cases, the Saudi Ministry of Interior stated that the victims died accidentally, as the police acted in self-defense when “rioters” opened fire on them.

The latest victim was Ahmad al-Matar, aged 17, who was killed last December. Police said that the deceased was found in possession of a gun. However, eyewitnesses told his parents that their son was filming protesters who were burning tires in Qatif. They added that the police responded by opening fire on demonstrators protesting the detention of citizens from the area of ​​Qatif, killing Matar and wounding six others.

The father of the deceased rejects the account of the Saudi authorities and demands an impartial and independent investigation.

He said, “What happened to my son is a heinous crime. He was targeted and killed by shots to his side and legs.” Matar believes that “the bullets used in this case were armor-piercing bullets.”

The news came as a shock to the family, who woke up on a Friday to find out that their eldest son among eight siblings had not returned home. The father, who works in Riyadh and visits his family over weekends, went out to search for him. The family discovered through social-networking sites that their son had been killed the previous night, while they had thought that he was out having dinner with his friends.

The father said: “Wailing began at home, since we had no knowledge that our son was involved in any political activities or that he participates in demonstrations. This point is still under investigation. I do not know the circumstances of his death. The Interior Ministry refuses to disclose the results of the investigations it has conducted. I have also not received the autopsy results I requested as of today.

“I felt happy. Killing him in such a heinous way makes him a martyr to God. If he was struggling and demanding freedom for the people of our country, he would also be a martyr. I cried for his death for some time, which is something I cannot control. But I later felt happy that he has is now in a safe place, a more welcoming place than this world,” the father told As-Safir.

The father demanded the prosecution of those responsible for the death of his son in such a “barbaric and grotesque” incident. He said, “Anyone who knew Ahmad knows that he is very peaceful and quiet. Everybody knows him as a good person. Even if my son had committed a wrongdoing, abusing him in this manner would still be a crime.”

Matar’s father denounced the Interior Ministry statement, which talked about an exchange of fire and police defending themselves. He said: “Such statements are issued hastily after each killing, without any scrutiny or investigation. I reject it completely. I considered him a martyr because he was abused, tortured and beaten. If he had concern for the grievances of this country, then he is certainly a martyr.”

His bereaved mother, who is still grieving, said little: “He was the head of the family in the absence of his father. He stayed with us day and night. We cannot believe that he carried a weapon in the face of the police.”

The funeral of Matar, whose body was handed over by the authorities to his family after several days, was held in the presence of massive crowds estimated at 50,000 people. The father said: “The large number of mourners and funeral participants alleviated our shock and tragedy. Because of that, I’ve realized that my son was right.”

Mohammad al-Matar and his family are one of 15 families who have lost their sons. Those who have been killed are seen as martyrs for the sake of truth. They have sacrificed themselves in order to fulfill the demands raised by the people of the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia. These demands include the release of political prisoners and an end to sectarian discrimination practiced against the kingdom’s Shiites, who are estimated at two million out of 27 million, the total population of the country.

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