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Iran denies that 'death sentence Saudis' spied for Tehran

Saudi Arabia and Iran have witnessed numerous diplomatic clashes [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 December, 2016

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Iran has responded to the death sentence handed down to 15 Saudis who Riyadh claims were spies for Tehran, dismissing the allegations as 'baseless'.

Iran has denied any connection to 15 men condemned to death by a Saudi court accused of "spying" for Tehran.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bahran Ghasemi dismissed the claims as "baseless" and said that Iran acts within international law with no reason to increase tensions in the region.

"Saudi Arabia must not seek to bring baseless accusations against Iran with the intention of political gains and increasing tensions in the region," Ghasemi said.

"Iran has had no activity against international law and diplomatic principles in Saudi Arabia."

He also said the Iranian government received no information about an alleged "Iranian person" said to be among the accused.

"Iran's principle policy toward Persian Gulf countries is mutual respect, good neighbourliness, and no interference in domestic affairs of other countries," said Ghasemi.

Fifteen people in total were sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for allegedly spying on behalf of Riyadh's regional rival Iran, according to AFP.

Most of the accused were said to be from Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslim minority according to the agency, which makes up a majority in Iran and is key to country and regime's identity.

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-majority country, argues that Iran is seeking to extend its influence through wars in Arab states such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen and stirring unrest in the Gulf region.

The two countries have also been engaged in a war of words following the death of 464 Iranian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia's Mecca during a stampede last year.

Tensions ramped up when Saudi Arabia executed a Saudi Shia cleric named Nimr al-Nimr.

Shortly after, angry crowds in Iran raided Riyadh's diplomatic missions, which Saudi Arabia argued were orchestrated by Tehran.

Following the incident, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran, and most Gulf states - and some of Riyadh's Arab and Muslim allies - followed suit.

The trial of the men began in February, a month after the cut in ties. 

The 15 were among a group of 32 people tried over the espionage allegations, al-Riyadh newspaper said. 

Some of the defendants were accused of meeting Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Two of the group were acquitted while the rest received jail sentences of between six months and 25 years.

Apart from one Iranian and an Afghan, all of the defendants were Saudis. The source said that one of the two acquitted was a foreigner.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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