Saudi Arabia has put 32 Shiite people on trial, including 30 members of its own Shia Muslim minority, in charges of spying for Iran, several local newspapers and television reported on Monday.
The 32, including an Iranian and an Afghan, were detained in 2013 sparking expressions of concern among Saudi Shias who said that several were well known figures in their community and not involved in politics.
Riyadh’s Bureau of Public Prosecution presented the charges against the 32 on Sunday at the Specialised Criminal Court, which tries security offences, the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channel reported.
Among those arrested in 2013 were an elderly university professor, a paediatrician, a banker and two clerics. Most were from al-Ahsa, a mixed Shi’ite and Sunni region that is home to around half the members of the kingdom’s minority sect.
Saudi Arabia has blamed sporadic unrest among Shi’ites in Qatif on Iran, but has never publicly presented evidence of a direct link between those who took part in protests from 2011-2013 and Tehran, which denies any involvement.
In 2012, it said the hacking that August of the computer network of state energy producer Saudi Arabian Oil Co (Saudi Aramco) had originated from servers in other countries and some analysts pointed the finger at Iran, which also denied that.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and non-Arab Iran soured after the latter’s 1979 revolution that brought Shi’ite clerics to power. Saudi Arabia follows the rigid Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam in which Shi’ism is seen as heretical.
Shi’ites in Eastern Province say they face persistent discrimination affecting their ability to work, study and worship freely.
Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran last month in response to angry demonstrations in front of its diplomatic missions in the two Iranian cities of Tehran and Mashhad. Some people attacked the Saudi premises in the course of the otherwise peaceful protests, which were held in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent political dissident, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been executed.
Nimr had been arrested in 2012 in Eastern Province.