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Iran Press TV

Saudi Arabia puts 32 Shias on trial over 'spying for Iran'

Iran Press TV

Mon Feb 22, 2016 10:44AM

A group of 32 Shia Muslims, including an Iranian national, has been put on trial in Saudi Arabia over charges of spying for Iran.

Besides the Iranian official, the defendants, who appeared before the Saudi Special Criminal Court on Sunday, included 30 Saudis from the mainly Shia Qatif region of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province and an Afghan national.

The Saudi Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution presented at the court various charges against the defendants, including the formation of what it said was a spy cell in collaboration with members of Iranian intelligence and passing on sensitive data to the Islamic Republic. Tehran strongly denied any involvement in the case in 2013, when the people were arrested.

The Eastern Province has been the site of peaceful demonstrations, mostly in the districts of Qatif and Awamiyah, since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners. They want an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.

Riyadh has blamed the unrest in the region on Iran, but has never presented any evidence of a link between the protesters and Tehran, which refutes the allegation.

Observers note that the practice of charging people with "spying" is too often employed by Saudi authorities as a means of comfortably silencing dissidents in the region.

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran last month in response to angry demonstrations in front of its diplomatic missions in the two Iranian cities of Tehran and Mashhad. Some people attacked the Saudi premises in the course of the otherwise peaceful protests, which were held in the wake of Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent political dissident, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been executed.

Nimr had been arrested in 2012 in Eastern Province.

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