KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
When Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric earlier this month, it infuriated people in Iran and set the Middle East on edge. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had demanded political and religious freedoms for Shiites, who are a minority in Saudi Arabia and called for an end to the Saudi monarchy. Saudi Arabia says al-Nimr was a terrorist. Al-Nimr's son just got a degree in mechanical engineering at Indiana University. Mohammed al-Nimr says his father was a peaceful man.
MOHAMMED AL-NIMR: Even when the government started firing bullets on people, he basically asked people to not even throw rocks on the policemen. Once, when the government fired and killed two people, he told the people that the roar of the word is mightier than the sound of bullets.
MCEVERS: When he himself used words and speeches and sermons, you know, he said things very critical of the Saudi regime, which, you know, caught the attention of the regime. He said - you know, I remember - there's one speech, he said, the regime steals my money, sheds my blood, violates my honor. Looking back, do you wish that he hadn't become so outspoken and so critical of the Saudi government?
AL-NIMR: Not at all. I'm proud of what he did. I'm proud of him, and I really appreciate what he did for all our people. Like, we tried to make our sound heard in the world, like, for, like, more than 100 years right now. But by his action, what he did meant the whole world see what kind of government is Saudi Arabia government. They can't face words so they kill people.
MCEVERS: Saudi government accused him of being a terrorist. When he was, you know, arrested, there was some sort of fight that ended with gunshots. What do you think about the claim that he is a terrorist?
AL-NIMR: Well, I just want to ask anyone who would claim that - anyone - to bring one proof, just one proof that my father said a violent word against anyone.
MCEVERS: 'Cause the charge, again, was that when they arrested him that he was armed and that shots were fired and then it was - the terrorism charge followed that, right?
AL-NIMR: Well, he was shot four times when he was not armed. But, OK, if he was armed, like, basically why couldn't they show the people that? And even though no one of them got hurt, he's the only one who got hurt.
MCEVERS: Where were you when you heard that the execution had actually happened? How did you find out?
AL-NIMR: Actually, I - I was home. I was in my apartment. It was just a message. It was just a message that said, they executed your father. I couldn't believe that at first. I went and checked the news again. I checked the news. I - it was true. At first it was, like, a big shock. It was a big shock, but after that I was just, like, I was kind of - I can describe the word as relief.
AL-NIMR: Yeah. Because he was detained, he was in solitary for, like, from 2012. He was in solitary, and I knew that they're not going to let him go. It was basically an - I can say a dungeon. He can't even see the sun. They were basically making lots of noise around all the time when he's trying to sleep. And basically, they didn't offer him the appropriate treatment. They broke his bone by bullets then they let the bone go back by itself, and the bone didn't go back straight because they didn't support the bones.
MCEVERS: Were you able to have a burial for your father?
AL-NIMR: Unfortunately - unfortunately, we couldn't do that. They detained even the body of him after his death.
MCEVERS: Mohammed al-Nimr, thank you so much for your time today.
AL-NIMR: Thank you.
MCEVERS: Mohammed al-Nimr says he plans to study international law so he can clear his father's name. For now, he says he will do that outside of Saudi Arabia.
In a statement, a Saudi government spokesman says, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was, quote, "dedicated to destabilizing and disrupting society and economic prosperity. He used religious platforms and social media to incite violence and terrorism." The spokesman says the government gave al-Nimr full medical care after he was wounded in a battle with security forces in 2012. He also says al-Nimr was given due process before being convicted of terrorism. Human rights activists dispute that.
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