Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric who was executed on Saturday, was a long-time vocal critic of the kingdom’s Sunni rulers.
A native of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-majority Eastern Province, al-Nimr moved to Shiite Iran in 1980 and stayed there for nearly 10 years, studying Shiite Islam.
After returning to Saudi Arabia, he became popular among fellow Shiites for fiery speeches in which he accused the Sunni government of discriminating against the country’s minority Shiites.
He demanded increased rights for the Shiite minority, which makes up some 15 per cent of the mostly Sunni Saudi population.
Al-Nimr backed the 2011 anti-government protests in the oil-rich Eastern Province, inspired by the Middle East’s then popular revolts, commonly known as the Arab Spring.
He was detained several times for his anti-government activism. His last arrest in 2012 triggered days of violent protests in his hometown, Qatif, in eastern Saudi Arabia.
”I am sure that my detention or death will be a motive for action,” he was quoted as saying in a mosque sermon prior to his arrest.
In 2014, a lower Saudi court condemned al-Nimr to death on charges of causing sectarian strife and disobeying the country's ruler.
In October, a top Saudi court confirmed the sentence against the 55-year-old.
At the time, Shiite leaders in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon warned Saudi authorities against executing al-Nimr.
Rights groups also called for his release, saying his trial was "deeply flawed."