Saudi Arabia sentences 15 people to death over Iranian spy case

Critics say three-year long case is politically motivated and is a distraction from economic struggles and the oil rich kingdom's war in Yemen

Peter Walker@petejohn_walker
Tuesday 06 December 2016 10:00
Protests, and the trial of the 32 allged spies, followed the Saudi execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr
Protests, and the trial of the 32 allged spies, followed the Saudi execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr

The Saudi Arabian government has sentenced 15 people to death and jailed many more over an alleged spy ring that handed secret documents to arch-enemy Iran.

A court in the capital of Riyadh also gave prison terms ranging from six months to 25 years, and acquitted two, over a three-year case that has involved 30 Saudis, one Iranian and one Afghan.

Critics have long said the high-profile trial is entirely politically motivated and serves as a distraction from the Gulf state's economic woes.

The 32 were detained in 2013 and went on trial in February charged with an exhaustive list of damning accusations.

Saudi state media said suspects fed back sensitive national security information to Iran - the Islamic kingdom's long-term rival - that attacked the territorial unity and integrity of the country and its armed forces.

Suspects were also accused of meeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, coordinating with Iranian intelligence agents, of possessing weapons, forging documents and accepting bribes.

Moreover, they were accused of attempting economic sabotage, of trying to undermine social peace and public order, spread chaos, incite sectarian strife and carry out "hostile acts" against the kingdom.

Prosecutors also accused the alleged spy ring, which includes a university professor, a paediatrician, banker and two clerics, of travelling to Iran and Lebanon for training on espionage techniques.

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The gang allegedly attempted to recruit people working in state agencies and hack into computers for sensitive information.

Almost all of the defendants are Shia Muslims, in what is a Sunni-dominated country, and are from the oil rich Eastern province where street protests calling for democratic reform have bubbled up since the Arab Spring.

Anger reached fever pitch in this region, when in January, leading celric and vocal regime critic Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed for alleged involvment in the killing of policemen.

The publicity has swept aside headlines surrounding the Saudis involvment in the Yemen civil war, which has killed more than 10,000 civilians.

During times of low oil prices, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has slashed capital spending by 71 per cent and ministers' pay by 20 per cent.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabian officials said they would behead a disabled man for taking part in protests.

The death penalties for the 15 alleged spies are open to appeal.

Relations between Saudia Arabia and Iran soured after the latter's 1979 Shia revolution.

The Independent has contacted the House of Saud for comment.

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