Saudi jails 7 up to 20 years over Shia protests

AFP , Thursday 20 Feb 2014

Saudi Arabia
File Photo: Anti-riot police face off with protesters in Saudi Arabia's eastern Gulf coast town of Qatif March 11, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

A Saudi court has jailed seven protesters for up to 20 years for joining a demonstration and chanting anti-government slogans in a mostly Shia region of the kingdom, local media reported Thursday.

The Eastern Province, where Qatif is located, was the site of frequent Shia-led protests between February 2011 and August 2012.

A specialised court in Riyadh on Wednesday sentenced the young defendants to between six and 20 years in prison and imposed travel bans of the same duration as their jail terms.

They were convicted of "taking part in protests", "chanting slogans against the state", and "possessing and making Molotov cocktails", according to local newspapers.

The court in the ultra-conservative kingdom also sentenced one of the defendants to 80 lashes for consuming alcohol.

The defendants said they would appeal.

Protests first erupted in the province of eastern Saudi Arabia, home to most of the kingdom's two-million-strong Shia minority, in March 2011.

Since then 10 people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Fighting intensified after the arrest in July 2012 of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, considered to be a driving force behind the protests.

However, tensions eased in August that year when seven Shia dignitaries from Qatif hailed a call by King Abdullah for the creation of a centre for Sunni-Shia interfaith dialogue.

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