RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Tuesday executed four Shiites convicted on charges of terrorism for attacks against police and their role in violent protests.
The Interior Ministry said the four were executed for incidents that took place in the eastern region of Qatif, which is heavily populated by the kingdom's minority Shiites. Qatif is also home to the town of al-Awamiya, where there has been a surge in violence since May between Shiite militants and security forces who are demolishing the town's historic center.
In the list of offenses broadcast by the Interior Ministry, it did not appear that any of the four executed Tuesday had been found guilty of committing murder. Many of the offenses were related to their participation in protests. All were found guilty of disobeying the country's ruler, a common charge leveled against dissidents.
The list of charges, however, also includes violent offenses such as opening fire on police, harboring fugitives, throwing firebombs at security forces during protests and being part of a terrorist cell aimed at undermining security.
Rights groups last month expressed concern that 14 Saudi Shiites face execution for protest-related crimes committed in 2011 and 2012. In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said the rise in death sentences against minority Shiites in Saudi Arabia "is alarming and suggests that the authorities are using the death penalty to settle scores and crush dissent under the guise of combating 'terrorism'."
Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest rates of execution. In January 2016, the kingdom executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offenses, including prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had led protests in al-Awamiya against the government and its ultraconservative Sunni clerics. He had been charged with inciting violence against security forces and using his sermons to sow sedition — charges he denied and said were politically motivated.
The UK-based Reprieve, which advocates against the death penalty, said Tuesday's executions appear to be the first of prisoners tried by Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism court since last year's mass execution.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.