A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced distinguished Shia cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Hussein al-Radhi to 13 years in prison as the Riyadh regime presses ahead with its heavy-handed crackdown on members of the religious community.
The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh passed the ruling on the 66-year-old clergyman on Thursday, Arabic-language and independent Yemenat news website reported.
Sheikh Radhi’s relatives strongly condemned the court ruling, describing it as the application of the death penalty against the Shia cleric since he is already suffering from heart failure and cannot stand the harsh prison condition.
Sheikh Radhi was arrested on March 21, 2016, after being surrounded by a group of Saudi police officers and militiamen in the middle of a street in the city of al-Umran.
The prominent Shia clergyman had earlier been subjected to various forms of harassment and frequently summoned for questioning over his Friday sermons, which touched on a wide array of regional and domestic issues, including the execution of well-known Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in early January 2016.
Sheikh al-Radhi has also condemned Saudi’s military aggression against Yemen and called for the withdrawal of Saudi forces from the impoverished conflict-ridden country.
He has asked Saudi authorities to stop meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and respond to demands for reform at home.
The Shia cleric has censured the classification of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement as a terrorist organization, describing its chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as the source of pride for Arabs and Muslims.
Sheikh al-Radhi’s trial began on April 12, more than a year after his arrest. The cleric suffers from many diseases and is exposed to harsh prison conditions.
Since February 2011, Saudi Arabia has stepped up security measures in the Shia-dominated Eastern Province, which has been rocked by anti-regime demonstrations, with protesters demanding free speech, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination.
The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the Saudi regime. Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism law so as to repress pro-democracy movements.