Conspiracy

Saudi Arabia defends decision to execute 14 Saudi Shiites

Saudi Arabia is defending its decision to execute 14 minority Shiites — whose verdicts sparked criticism in the United States and Europe — declaring in a rare public statement that their trials were conducted fairly.

The men were arrested for their involvement in demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 during the Arab Spring revolts and were later sentenced to death in a secretive counterterrorism court, according to human rights activists and the men’s relatives, who also say that some of the men were tortured and forced into making false confessions.

The group included a teenager who was arrested at the airport before boarding a flight to visit a university in Michigan, and a youth who is half-deaf and nearly blind, activists said.

Shiites in the Sunni-majority kingdom have long complained of discrimination and harassment by authorities.

Last month, the kingdom’s highest court upheld the death sentences, clearing the way for the executions to take place any day now.

A spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Justice, Mansour al-Ghafari, said in a statement released Friday that the trials met international standards for fairness and due process and that the “defendants enjoy full legal rights.” All of them had access to lawyers and all court hearings were in the presence of the media and human rights observers, Ghafari said.

In a response Saturday, a prominent human rights group said the Saudi government’s statement made several false claims and was “at odds with assessments by the U.N. and rights groups.”

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