Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Monday, 22 September 2008 16:28 UK

Saudi rebuked on minority rights

Saudi map

Saudi Arabia should end systematic discrimination against its minority Ismaili Shia community, a human rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch says the Saudi government has consistently penalised Ismailis for their religious beliefs.

Ismailis are treated as second-class citizens in employment, education and the justice system, the group says.

It says there are as many as one million Ismailis in Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-dominated country of 28 million.

"The Saudi government preaches religious tolerance abroad, but it has consistently penalised its Ismaili citizens for their religious beliefs," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based rights group.

The report says Saudi officials use "hate speech" against Ismailis, noting that the official Council of Senior Religious Scholars had termed Ismailis "corrupt infidels, debauched atheists".

Ismailis, a minority Shia sect, are concentrated in the southern province of Najran bordering Yemen.

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