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The New Arab

Saudi sentences 15 to death for 'spying for Iran'

The majority of the convicted come from Saudi Arabia's eastern region of Qatif [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 December, 2016

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A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced 15 people, mostly from the local Shia minority, to death and several others to prison for allegedly spying for Iran.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced 15 people, mostly from the local Shia Muslim minority, to death and several others to prison in a case involving an alleged Iranian spy cell.

A court in Riyadh handed down the sentences on Tuesday to 32 people, including 30 Saudis, one Iranian and one Afghan national.

The majority of the convicted come from Saudi Arabia's eastern region of Qatif, a Shia-majority area that has been the scene of anti-government protests and local unrest.

They were charged in February of establishing a spy ring in collaboration with Iranian intelligence and providing Iran with highly sensitive information on the Saudi military.

Authorities accused them of seeking to commit acts of sabotage against Saudi economic interests, inciting sectarian strife, recruiting others for espionage and participating in anti-government protests.

Many of the detainees were first arrested in 2013, and reports say they include among them an elderly university professor, a paediatrician, a banker and two clerics.

     
      The trial comes amid heightened diplomatic tensions
between Iran and Saudi Arabia [Getty]

Saudi Arabia has often blamed unrest among its Shia community on Iranian meddling, but rarely presents evidence linking the Saudi protesters with Tehran.

Protesters in the Qatif region claim the Saudi government has waged a campaign of sectarian discrimination against them with government clerics often denouncing the local Shia population as "heretics" or fifth-columnists with allegiance to Iran.

The trial comes amid heightened diplomatic tensions between Shia power Iran and the Sunni-ruled kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In January, angry protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital and the Saudi consulate in the city of Mashhad after the kingdom executed Shia cleric and activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on terrorism charges.

Sheikh Nimr hailed from the region of Qatif, and his own hometown of al-Awamiyya has been the site of clashes between Saudi security services and the local population.

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