Saudi Arabia jails seven men for up to 20 years for demonstrating

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Riyadh court sentenced seven men to between six and 20 years in jail on Wednesday for offences that included taking part in protests in the town of Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, state news agency SPA said.

SPA said the seven had been also convicted of chanting slogans against the kingdom as well as possessing and making petrol bombs and hurling them at security forces.

Minority Shi’ites have staged sporadic protests in Qatif since 1979. The town’s most recent wave of demonstrations began during the Arab uprisings of 2011 and continued through 2012.

At least 20 people were killed as Shi’ite youths took to the streets to demand equal treatment in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Shi’ites accuse Saudi authorities of persistent discrimination against them and say some protesters were shot.

Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and the world’s top oil exporter, denies discriminating against Shi’ites and says all the killings resulted from exchanges of gunfire when police were attacked.

In 2012, Saudi Arabia ordered the arrest of 23 Shi’ites in the oil-producing Eastern Province, where many of the kingdom’s Shi’ites live, saying they were responsible for unrest.

Saudi media have said only nine of the 23 remain at large. The rest have been captured, killed or turned themselves in.

Saudi Arabia recently ratified an anti-terrorism law that rights activists have condemned as a tool to stifle dissent.

Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alistair Lyon