By Arab News
Fifteen people who have been accused of spying for Iran were sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, local media reported on Tuesday.
Fifteen other suspects were slapped prison terms ranging from six months to 25 years, while two of the accused were acquitted, Al-Riyadh newspaper said.
The sentencing capped 10 months of trial, which started in February, Al-Arabiya network said, adding that 160 hearings were held.
The convicts were among 32 people, including 30 Saudis, an Iranian and an Afghan, who were arrested in 2013 on spying charges, the network said.
The rulings are subject to appeal, and death sentences have to be ratified by the king.
During the hearings, prosecutors presented evidence showing that the suspects organized a spy ring, liaised and collaborated with Iranian intelligence agent and were also accused of meeting Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
Many of the suspects are former employees of the Saudi defense and interior ministries, local media said. They were accused of setting up a spy ring and passing sensitive military and security information to Iran, seeking to sabotage Saudi economic interests, undermining community cohesion and inciting sectarian strife.
The charges also included supporting protests in the Shi’ite-majority region of Qatif in the Eastern Province, recruiting others for espionage, sending encrypted reports to Iranian intelligence via email and committing high treason against the king.
Among those arrested in 2013 were an elderly university professor, a pediatrician, a banker and two clerics.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have accused Iran of exporting terrorism, fomenting unrest and spreading chaos in the Middle East.
Iran has acknowledged sending troops to fight with the Assad regime in Syria and sending weapons of war to Houthis in Yemen who are seeking to overthrow the UN-recognized government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.