Saudi Arabia starts trial of Shia woman over participating in protests

The trial has begun in Saudi Arabia of the first woman accused of involvement in protests in a Shia-majority area of the kingdom, where Shias have for long complained about discrimination, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Okaz daily did not name the accused, but gave her age as 43. It said she is “the first woman accused of being involved in terrorist activities” in Qatif, a coastal district where Shias form the majority.

The daily said the woman, aged 43,  was involved in what was described as terrorist activities, an accusation that Saudi authorities have repeatedly used in the past to frame Shia men, especially those attending peaceful protests to demand fair treatment of Shias and a better share in the country’s political system.

Rights activists identified the woman as Naimah Almatrod, a nurse, saying she was totally innocent of anything other than attending protests in Qatif.

Okaz said prosecutors accused the woman during a hearing in Riyadh on Monday of offences including “destabilizing security, negatively affecting the social fabric, wreaking havoc, (and) inciting sectarian sedition.”

Shias mostly live in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich territories in the east. Authorities have convicted more than 200 men over attending protests since they erupted in 2011.

Activists say nearly 30 have been killed in the regime’s crackdown. Some have also been put to death, including Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, the top cleric whose execution in January 2015 sparked huge international condemnations. Almatrod is the first woman to go on trial over the protests.

Okaz said the woman is also accused of using social media for incitement against Riyadh. Several other activists are behind bars in Saudi Arabia over their activities online as campaigners urge the regime in Riyadh to release them immediately.