Saudi Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz on Monday described prominent Shiite cleric Nimr Nimr, detained in the kingdom's Eastern Province, as mentally ill.
"Nimr Nimr is someone who stirs sedition... The way he speaks reflects a mental deficiency and imbalance," Prince Ahmed said at a press conference, according to a report by state news agency SPA.
Prince Ahmed claimed that authorities do not discriminate against the family of Nimr, but warned that those affected by his "deviation" should be stopped.
"His wife works in immigration, and his sons and daughters have scholarships to study abroad. The government sent his wife to the United States for treatment when she suffered a malignant illness," he said.
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Nimr remains in hospital as he was wounded during his arrest earlier this month in the Shiite district of Qatif in the Eastern Province.
Saudi police on Friday confronted Shiite demonstrators who marched in Qatif demanding the release of Nimr and other detainees, witnesses said, while the interior ministry announced arresting several people among "rioters."
Two Shiite protesters were killed earlier this month, triggering attacks on government buildings in Qatif.
The district witnessed a spate of protests after an outbreak of violence between Shiite pilgrims and religious police in the Muslim holy city of Medina in February last year.
The protests escalated when the kingdom led a force of Gulf troops into neighbouring Bahrain the following month to help crush a Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy.