Kuwait sentences two defendants, including an Iranian, to death for 'spying for Iran'

KUWAIT (AFP) - Kuwait on Tuesday (Jan 12) sentenced two defendants to death, including an Iranian being tried in absentia, after they were convicted of "spying for Iran" and plotting attacks in the Gulf country.

The Iranian, Abdulreda Hayder, was on trial along with a group of Kuwaiti Shi'ites on charges of spying for Iran and hiding large quantities of arms and ammunition in underground depots.

The court sentenced another defendant to life in prison and 19 were jailed for between five and 15 years, two of them in absentia. Three were acquitted and one was fined 5,000 dinars.

The defendants were also convicted of spying for Iran-backed Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, smuggling in and assembling explosives, and possessing firearms and ammunition.

The Kuwaiti authorities said in August they had dismantled an Iran-linked cell and seized large quantities of arms, explosives and ammunition.

During the trial which began last September, all 23 defendants present in court denied the charges and alleged that confessions were extracted under torture.

They told the court they were beaten and given electric shocks, with interrogators threatening to kill them if they did not sign prepared confessions.

The verdicts come amid deep tensions between Teheran and Gulf Arab states after Iranian protesters on Jan 2 torched Saudi Arabian diplomatic missions in the Shi'ite-dominated Islamic republic.

The attacks were in anger over Riyadh's execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent cleric from the kingdom's Shi'ite minority.

Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Teheran the next day and a number of its Sunni Arab allies followed suit, including Bahrain and Sudan. Other Arab countries downgraded ties or recalled their envoys from Teheran.

Kuwait recalled its ambassador from Iran to protest the attacks and summoned Teheran's ambassador to express its disapproval.

Around a third of Kuwait's native population of 1.3 million is Shi'ite.

Another Sunni-ruled Gulf state, Bahrain, said on Wednesday that it had dismantled an Iran-linked "terror" cell that was planning attacks in the kingdom.

The hearing on Tuesday was held amid tight security, with armoured vehicles with mounted machine guns stationed around the Palace of Justice in Kuwait City.

Only close relatives of the defendants, lawyers and journalists were allowed to attend the hearing.

Iran has denied any links to the group.