The decision was made by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, Saudi state media reported. Those convicted were members of an “Iranian spy cell” which included at least 32 people: 30 Saudis, 1 Afghan and 1 Iranian. They were arrested in 2013.
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.
The majority of the convicts were members of the Shiite minority, a source close to the case told AFP.
Some were also accused of supporting demonstrations in the Shiite-dominated Qatif governorate in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
According to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Middle East researcher Adam Coogle, the trial was “flawed from the beginning.”
He told AFP that the alleged spies’ offences don’t look like recognizable crimes, including “supporting demonstrations,”trying to “spread the Shia confession,” and “harming the reputation of the kingdom.”
“Criminal trials should not be merely legal ‘window-dressing’ where the verdict has been decided beforehand,” he said.
In October this year, an AFP tally showed that the kingdom had executed at least 134 people.
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.