Middle East

Shia activists sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia

Map of Saudi Arabia showing Qatif

Two Shia activists have been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of attacking security forces in Eastern Province.

Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, 20, was found guilty on Tuesday of causing sedition, rioting, protesting and robbery in the district of Qatif.

It follows the conviction on Monday of Rida al-Rubh, the 26-year-old son of leading cleric Sheikh Jaafar al-Rubh.

They can appeal to higher courts and the king to overturn their sentences.

Theirs are the heaviest punishments yet handed down to those involved in the anti-government protests that erupted in the oil-rich east in 2011.

More than 900 people have been arrested, and at least 300 are reportedly still in custody.

'Detained as a minor'

Ali al-Nimr and Rida al-Rubh are part of a group of about a dozen defendants who have been put on trial for the unrest in Qatif, particularly the village of Awamiya, where police officers and government facilities were attacked.

State media reported that Mr Nimr was found guilty of sedition, breaking allegiance to the king, rioting, bearing arms, using petrol bombs against security patrols, robbing a pharmacy and stealing surveillance cameras. He was also convicted of chanting anti-government slogans at illegal protests and inciting others to demonstrate, they added.

Local activists said he had been detained for nearly 30 months. One cited his father as saying that he was 17 at the time of his arrest and that he had been held at a facility for minors before being transferred to prison for trial by a special terrorism court, the AFP news agency reported.

Local media said Mr Rubh was convicted of opening fire at security forces in the towns of Tarout and Darin, as well as buying weapons and harbouring a wanted man and rioters.

A local Shia news website said his father has been leading negotiations between the Shia community and the Saudi interior ministry in an effort to restore calm to Awamiya.

It was not clear if any security personnel were killed or injured in the attacks for which the two men were found guilty.

The oil-rich Eastern Province is home to a Shia majority that has long complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni ruling family.

Protests erupted there when the pro-democracy uprising in neighbouring Bahrain, which has a Shia majority and a Sunni royal family, was crushed with the assistance of Saudi and other Gulf troops.

The Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.

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