Saudi Arabia gives death sentence to 15 people over spying for Iran

A court in Saudi Arabia handed down death sentences to 15 people Tuesday for accused of leaking details on the Saudi military and national security to Iran. Fifteen other suspects were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six months to 25 years while two were acquitted.

The decision was made by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Those convicted were members of an “Iranian spy cell” which included at least 32 people: 30 Saudis, 1 Afghan and 1 Iranian. . They were detained in 2013 over espionage charges and stood trial in February. Prosecutors accused the suspects of forming a spy ring in collaboration with Iranian intelligence, and handing over classified information on Saudi military zones. The sentences can be appealed.

Two of them were acquitted, 15 were given prison sentences ranging from six months to 25 years, and 15 others were sentenced to death.

Most of the convicts served in the military and diplomatic spheres. They also worked in economic, financial and academic fields.

The men are accused of collaborating with agents from Iranian intelligence and leaking information on the Saudi armed forces and national security to Tehran. They also attempted to recruit people “working in state agencies to commit acts of espionage for the Iranian intelligence service.”

Others hacked into computers to obtain the data concerning internal and external security of Saudi Arabia. Some of the suspects even allegedly met Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi denied the spying claims. “Such accusations are baseless and serve political motives,” he said.

The trial was the first in recent memory in which Saudi citizens were accused of spying. It came at a time of increasing struggle between Saudi Arabia, due to different approaches to Islam, leadership of the Islamic world and oil export policy.

In January this year, Riyadh executed prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Nimr was among 47 people either beheaded or shot by firing squad across Saudi Arabia in one day – the largest number of individuals executed in a single day since 1980.

The execution prompted waves of protests in Iran. Angry demonstrators broke into the Saudi embassy in Tehran, ravaging its offices and throwing Molotov cocktails at the building.

In response Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of creating “terrorist cells” inside the Sunni kingdom after cutting diplomatic ties with the predominantly-Shiite Islamic Republic.

protester holds a poster of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia, Jan., 2016
A protester holds a poster of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia, in Jan., 2016