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Saudi Arabia Executed a Bunch of People This Year — And 14 Accused Terrorists Are Up Next

The kingdom is on track to execute more people this year than in 2015, when it carried out a 20-year high of 158 executions, and to deepen resentment among its Shiite minority.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jun 2 2016, 2:50pm

Oman Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Saudi King Salman and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa at Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 31 May 2016.

Saudi Arabia sentenced 14 people to death for terrorism on Wednesday after they were convicted of attacks on police in the Shiite Muslim minority area of Qatif in the Eastern Province, scene of past anti-government protests, their lawyer said.

Another nine people were given jail sentences of three to 15 years and one was acquitted, their defence lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday executed its 95th person this year, putting it on a pace to breaking last year's 20 year high of 158 executions.

The new death sentences could further deepen resentment among the kingdom's Shiites, some of whom already complaining of discrimination in the predominantly Western-allied Sunni Muslim country. Saudi Arabia denies any discrimination.

Arabiya TV said the charges had included opening fire on security forces and civilians, causing several deaths and destruction of property. They were also accused of peddling drugs and armed robbery against shops and cars.

The defence lawyer said he intended to appeal the rulings.

The 24 defendants — most in their 20s — had been held for about four years and accused of carrying weapons and shooting at police, he said. During protests between 2011 and 2014, around 20 Shiites and several police officers were killed.

Related: The Senate Just Approved a Bill That Would Let Families of 9/11 Victims Sue Saudi Arabia

A spokesman for the Saudi justice ministry could not immediately be reached for a comment on the report, first broadcast by the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV.

Some Saudi Shiites complain they suffer systematic discrimination in Saudi Arabia, whose majority follow a strict form of Sunni Islam that regards the minority sect as heretical.

Last year, Saudi Arabia executed 158 people — more than any other year in 20 years. But it's on pace this year to conduct even more executions. The kingdom began 2016 by executing 47 people on January 2 for terrorism-related offenses, including Shiite Cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whose trial Human Rights Watch said was "deeply flawed."

Nimr was one of four Shiites convicted of similar crimes alongside 43 Sunnis accused of carrying out attacks for al-Qaeda a decade ago.

The execution of the Shiiites, including Nimr, by Sunni-led Saudi Arabia pushed up tensions with its main regional rival Iran and contributed to rising sectarian anger in some neighbouring countries.

International human rights groups have criticised Saudi Arabia's justice system, which they say holds unfair trials, and have said that convictions for terrorism sometimes extend to peaceful protesters and are secured by torture.

Related: These Are the Juvenile 'Offenders' Saudi Arabia Executed in January

James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, said executions in Saudi Arabia "have been surging dramatically for two years now and this appalling trend shows no sign of slowing."

"The steep increase in executions is even more appalling given the pervasive flaws in Saudi Arabia's justice system which mean that it is entirely routine for people to be sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials," he said. "The Saudi Arabian authorities should end their reliance on this cruel and inhuman form of punishment and establish an official moratorium on executions immediately."

Saudi Arabia denies this, saying its judiciary is independent and that it does not practice torture. It says it does not differentiate between Sunnis and Shiites accused of politically motivated attacks on other citizens or the security forces.