Saturday, 03 June 2023 08:37 GMT

Saudi Shias protest death sentences

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) More than 100 people protested in eastern Saudi Arabia yesterday to oppose death sentences against a Shia religious leader and seven others convicted after earlier demonstrations, an activist said.

Following Friday prayers they marched in the community of Awamiya to oppose "all harsh sentences and the death penalty against eight people," the activist said.

On Tuesday a Saudi court sentenced to death two people "as a deterrent to others" in connection with protests by members of the minority Shia community that began three years ago.

They were tried on charges including "participating in marches and rallies that caused riots" in Awamiya, the official Saudi Press Agency reported without identifying the accused.

The activist said those sentenced to death were teenagers at the time of their arrest, and are among a total of eight who have received the death sentence.

Among them is Shia cleric Nimr Al Nimr, a driving force behind the demonstrations, who was sentenced last week.

The activist said protesters also gathered on Thursday night in the Saudi Gulf coastal community of Qatif to oppose the death penalty and support Nimr.

"The people here are very angry but they are also afraid," the activist said, asking for anonymity. Several other accused have received multi-year jail sentences. Following Nimr's conviction Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Deputy Foreign Minister of Shia-majority Iran, said "such measures do not contribute to the restoration of peace and calm in the region."

Most of Saudi Arabia's estimated two million Shias live in the east, where the vast majority of the wealthy kingdom's oil reserves lie. Many Shias complain of marginalisation in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

They began demonstrating in February 2011 after an outbreak of violence between Shia pilgrims and religious police in the holy city of Madinah in western Saudi Arabia.

Protests escalated after the kingdom's intervention in neighbouring Bahrain to support a Sunni monarchy against an uprising led by the Shia majority.

Hundreds were arrested in Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International. Tension rose further in July 2012 when security forces arrested the grey-bearded Nimr, who was shot and wounded.

After the sheikh's conviction last week, his family accused the court of ignoring his "peaceful and non-violent approach," saying the case had caused "social and political discontent".

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