Protests in Saudi after Shiite death sentences: activist
AFP, Friday 24 Oct 2014

More than 100 people protested in eastern Saudi Arabia on Friday to oppose death sentences against a Shiite religious leader and seven others convicted after earlier demonstrations, an activist said.

Following Friday prayers they marched in the community of Awamiya to oppose "all harsh sentences and the death penalty against eight people," the activist told AFP.

On Tuesday a Saudi court sentenced to death two people "as a deterrent to others" in connection with protests by members of the minority Shiite community that began three years ago.

They were tried on charges including "participating in marches and rallies that caused riots" in Awamiya, the official Saudi Press Agency reported without identifying the accused.

The activist said those sentenced to death were teenagers at the time of their arrest, and are among a total of eight who have received the death sentence.

Among them is Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a driving force behind the demonstrations, who was sentenced last week.

The activist said protesters also gathered on Thursday night in the Saudi Gulf coastal community of Qatif to oppose the death penalty and support Nimr.

"The people here are very angry but they are also afraid," the activist said, asking for anonymity.

Several other accused have received multi-year jail sentences.

Following Nimr's conviction Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Deputy Foreign Minister of Shiite-majority Iran, said "such measures do not contribute to the restoration of peace and calm in the region."

Most of Saudi Arabia's estimated two million Shiites live in the east, where the vast majority of the wealthy kingdom's oil reserves lie.

Many Shiites complain of marginalisation in the Sunni-dominated kingdom.

They began demonstrating in February 2011 after an outbreak of violence between Shiite pilgrims and religious police in the Muslim holy city of Medina in western Saudi Arabia.

Protests escalated after the kingdom's intervention in neighbouring Bahrain to support a Sunni monarchy against an uprising led by the Shiite majority.

Hundreds were arrested in Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International.

Tension rose further in July 2012 when security forces arrested the grey-bearded Nimr, who was shot and wounded.

After the sheikh's conviction last week, his family accused the court of ignoring his "peaceful and non-violent approach," saying the case had caused "social and political discontent".