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Saudi Arabia sentences one to death, seven to jail in Iran spying case

Citizen sentenced to death for reportedly leaking confidential information to Iranian intelligence, state TV reports
Saudi Arabia carried out the mass execution of 37 men last April (AFP/File photo)

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced one citizen to death and seven others to prison on charges of treason and spying for Iran, state television reported.

The Saudi national sentenced to death was accused of "betraying his country and offering intelligence to Iran", Al-Ekhbariya said on Tuesday via Twitter.

Seven others were sentenced to a total jail term of 58 years for having "associated and cooperated with people working in the embassy of Iran", it added.

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The broadcaster did not identify the people nor explain with which Iranian embassy they were accused of cooperating.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya said that the death sentence was handed down to a person who was "proven to have leaked confidential information to Iranian intelligence".

"The confidential information which was leaked affects Saudi national security and includes intelligence on two foreign embassies, such as their entrances, exits, and security presence," Al-Arabiya reported.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington did not return Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of this article's publication. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been major rivals in the Middle East, but tensions have increased during the past year or so, as the US has bolstered the kingdom's efforts to quell Iranian military and economic capabilities in the region. 

'False aura of legality' 

Earlier this month, Amnesty International released a report accusing Saudi authorities of using its counter-terrorism court as a weapon to systematically silence peaceful opposition in the country.

The rights group said the kingdom is using its Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) to prosecute mainly Shia Muslims and minorities on charges that often equate peaceful political activities with terrorism.

"The Saudi government exploits the SCC to create a false aura of legality around its abuse of the counter-terror law to silence its critics," Heba Morayef, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement earlier this month. 

The rights group reviewed eight mass SCC trials of 68 Shia Muslims who were prosecuted for taking part in anti-government protests, and 27 individuals prosecuted for peaceful human rights activism.

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In all cases, Amnesty concluded that the trials were grossly unfair. Some of the defendants were sentenced to death.

Saudi Arabia's court system made headlines in April last year when it executed 37 Saudis, mostly Shia activists, on terrorism charges. Several of those executed were minors at the time of their arrests.

Last month, top Saudi diplomat Adel al-Jubeir slammed European lawmakers for questioning the state of human rights within the kingdom's judicial system. 

"Stop lecturing and start working with us," Jubeir told the European Parliament at the time. "We have a court system. The court system is independent, and we do not allow anyone to question how our court system operates, with all due respect. 

"We are a sovereign country. We are not a banana republic, and we will respect the decisions to our court system."

In the first 10 months of 2019, the Saudi government beheaded 164 people, surpassing the previous record set in 2015, according to an October tally by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights.