Saudi Arabia’s security forces have sealed off a Shiite-majority town in the east of kingdom, Human Rights Watch said Sunday, following months of unrest and clashes with police.
Saudi authorities last week said they seized control of a district of Awamiyah, a town in the eastern Qatif region where regime forces have been for months launching a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
HRW on Sunday said Saudi security forces had completely “surrounded and sealed off” Awamiya.
The New York-based group said that, based on comparative satellite imagery from February and August, large sections of the town had sustained extensive damage, including to civilian infrastructure.
“Saudi authorities should take immediate steps to allow people to safely return home, allow business and clinics to reopen, and compensate residents for property damage and destruction caused by security forces,” HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The town in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich east was also the hub of a short-lived protest movement in 2011 inspired by the Arab Spring.
One of the movement’s leaders, Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, was executed in January 2016.
Saudi Arabia’s minority Shiite community, which makes up an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the country’s population of 32 million, has long complained of marginalization.