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Top Saudi court hands down life term to imprisoned Shia dissident

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Imprisoned Saudi Shia dissident Mustafa al-Khayyat (via Twitter)

The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia has sentenced an imprisoned political dissident from the oil-rich Eastern Province to life in prison.

Human rights sources, requesting anonymity, said the court passed the ruling against Mustafa al-Khayyat over his active participation in protests in the Shia-majority Qatif region since 2011, the Arabic-language Mirat al-Jazeera news website reported.

The sources added that the court has initially handed down the death sentence to Khayyat, a local resident of Tarout Island, following a number of hearings that started in July 2017.

The report further noted that the sentence was issued on the basis of confessions extracted under duress.

This comes after on February 24, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced one Saudi citizen to death and seven others to jail on trumped-up charges of treason and spying for Iran.

Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television news network alleged 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,” the Dubai-based broadcaster claimed.

Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime, with government forces increasing security measures across the province.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of Riyadh. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif in 2012.

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