A Saudi court has sentenced a Yemeni man to death for a knife attack on a Spanish theatre group as the country cracks down on violence and harassment at entertainment venues.
The court also sentenced an accomplice to 12 and a half years in jail for the 11 November attack during a live performance in Riyadh, which Madrid said left four performers wounded.
The verdict, which can be appealed, comes as the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom pursues a contentious liberalisation drive that marks the biggest cultural shake-up in its modern history.
“The criminal court issues a preliminary ruling handing the death sentence to the perpetrator of the terrorist attack … in Riyadh,” the official Al-Ekhbariya television reported on Sunday.
The assailant, identified by Saudi police as a 33-year-old Yemeni, stabbed a number of people during a musical in King Abdullah park, one of the venues hosting the two-month Riyadh Season festival.
It was the first such assault since the country began easing restrictions on entertainment.
Al-Ekhbariya reported last week that the attacker had taken orders from an al-Qaida leader in Yemen, but the group has not claimed responsibility. Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and has also been involved in the fight against al-Qaida.
Observers also point at simmering resentment among arch-conservatives over the government’s multi-billion dollar entertainment push as it seeks to lure foreign tourists and diversify its economy away from oil.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pursued sweeping social reforms to modernise the kingdom, lifting decades-long bans on cinemas and women drivers while allowing mixed-gender concerts and sporting events.
The reforms are wildly popular among Saudi Arabia’s mainly young population, but they risk angering religious hardliners.
Separately, Riyadh police said they had arrested 88 people over the past week after several women complained on social media that they had been harassed at the MDL Beast music festival in the Saudi capital earlier this month.
The electronic music festival, which drew tens of thousands of fans, was billed by organisers as the biggest ever hosted in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has also faced intense international scrutiny over its human rights record since last year’s killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
The US rapper Nicki Minaj pulled out of a concert in the country in what she described as a show of support for women’s and gay rights.