JEDDAH : A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five young Shiites Sunday to jail terms ranging from three to six years for insulting the kingdom's flag during protests, an official source said.
They were prosecuted for lowering a flag from a school during demonstrations in Eastern Province and replacing it with a black Shiite banner. The same source said the five replaced an official plaque on which was written ‘The Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’ with one stating ‘The Kingdom of Qatif of Tomorrow’. Demonstrations in Eastern Province, where most of the mainly Sunni kingdom's two million Shiites live, erupted in 2011 alongside a Shiite-led protest movement in neighbouring Bahrain.
They took a violent turn in 2012 and clashes between police and protesters have so far killed 24 people, including at least four policemen, according to activists.
Tensions eased later that year when seven senior Shiite dignitaries from Qatif responded favourably to a call from King Abdullah for the creation of a centre for dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites. ‘For centuries, Shiites and Sunnis have lived alongside each other in Iran, Iraq, the Levant, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf and North Africa... in peaceful coexistence,’ he said. Since ISIL began its Iraq offensive, Tehran has urged Iraqis to unite against the jihadists.