A court in Kuwait handed down death sentence Tuesday to two men accused of spying for Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. The ruling, which comes just days after Kuwait withdrew its ambassador from Iran over the latter’s diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia, risks further escalating tensions between the two nations.
According to reports, one of the men given the death penalty was an Iranian convicted in absentia, while the other was a Kuwaiti national, who was present in court. Nineteen others were given sentences ranging from five to 15 years.
The sentences were announced just over four months after authorities in Kuwait — a predominantly Sunni nation — said that they dismantled an Iran- and Hezbollah- linked “terror” cell and seized large quantities of arms, ammunition and explosives. At the time, Kuwaiti officials said that the arms cache found was “the largest in the country's history.”
However, it is not yet clear whether the people sentenced Tuesday had connections with the cell uncovered in August.
Relations between Kuwait and the Shiite-led Iran soured earlier this month, after Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in response to attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in the country. The attacks were triggered by the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, by the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2.
Nimr had long been a vocal supporter of the mass anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province in 2011, where a Shiite majority has accused the government of ignoring their needs and marginalizing their concerns.
Since his execution, and the ensuing protests in Iran, most Arab countries, including Kuwait, have sided with their Sunni ally and have either cut or reduced diplomatic ties with Iran.