Riyadh: A Saudi court has given death sentences to over a dozen young Shia activists from the restive Qatif region, which has been the scene of peaceful protest rallies against the ruling Al Saudi regime in recent years.
Lebanons al-Manar television channel reported that 14 activists were sentenced to death on Thursday by the Supreme Court in Riyadh for taking part in the anti-regime protests gripping the kingdoms Eastern Province, where the Qatif region is located.
According to the report, the trial process preceding the verdicts took place at the criminal court dealing with terrorism-related cases, a tribunal viewed by legal experts as an Interior Ministry tool to suppress opposition activists.
This is while some of the defendants had said during the hearing sessions that they were forced into false confessions through physical and psychological torture.
The rulers in Riyadh have been under fire by international rights group for using the so-called anti-terrorism law to silence critical voices in the kingdom. Riyadh adopted a revised version of the law in 2014, enabling tougher penalties for those found guilty of terrorism.
In May, the UNs special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, urged Saudi Arabia to stop using the law against people peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
The tough verdicts were issued amid the latest wave of unrest in the Shia town of Awamiyah in Qatif, which has repeatedly come under attack by regime forces over the past weeks.
Qatif was home to Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of the Saudi policies whose execution in 2016 by the Riyadh regime sparked angry protests at home and abroad as well as widespread international condemnations.
The Shia-populated Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011.
Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region, but the marched have been met with a heavy-handed crack down by the Saudi military.
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