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A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced the Shi’ite 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 Saudi Specialized Criminal Court passed the ruling on the clergyman on August 10, the independent Yemenat news website reported.

Radhi’s relatives strongly condemned the court ruling, saying it is essentially the death penalty for the 66-year-old cleric, whom they say already suffers from heart failure and will not withstand the harsh prison conditions.

Al-Radhi was arrested in March 2016 after being surrounded by a group of Saudi police officers and militiamen on a street in the city of al-Umran.

He had previously been subjected to harassment and frequently summoned for questioning over his Friday sermons, which touched on regional and domestic issues such as the execution of well-known Saudi Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr earlier that year.

Al-Radhi has also condemned Saudi Arabia’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.

He censured the classification of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group as a terrorist organization, describing its chief, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as a source of pride for Arabs and Muslims.

Al-Radhi's trial began on April 12, more than a year after his arrest.

Starting in February 2011, Saudi Arabia stepped up security measures in the Shi’a-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.

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