Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to execute 14 Shias, who were awarded death sentences in June 2016 for taking part in anti-government protests. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the country's court of "unfair trial" against the men.

The Sunni-dominated kingdom, with records of the highest number of executions in the world, has been previously accused of atrocities against the minority Shias in the country.

"The rise in death sentences against Saudi Arabian Shia is alarming and suggests that the authorities are using the death penalty to settle scores and crush dissent under the guise of combating 'terrorism' and maintaining national security," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said on Tuesday (5 June).

The remarks came after the Court of Appeal of the kingdom's Specialised Criminal Court upheld the death sentences sometime in late May.

The exact date of the ruling is not known, but the families of three of the death row inmates were informed in a phone call on 25 May about the appeal court's decision. Two other defendants' families called the court on 28 May and learned about the ruling.

Court documents of the 14 convicts reportedly show they were under detention for more than two years before the start of their trial during which, most of them were placed in solitary confinement and also denied access to their families and lawyers. The protests took place in 2011 and 2012 in the eastern Saudi province where Shias are a majority.

The death row inmates include four Saudi Arabian nationals who were teenagers when they committed the protest-related offences, according to Human Right Watch. The country's legal system is bound to spare teenage offenders but, there have been reports of the country even executing a boy under 18 in 2016.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch believe there are around 38 Shia men who currently face death sentences in the kingdom. They were reportedly convicted of undertaking activities that pose a serious security threat to the country. The groups have urged the government to quash the sentences as their trials were deeply flawed.

"The sham court proceedings that led to death sentences for 38 Shia men and boys brazenly flout international fair trial standards," Lynn Maalouf, director of research at Amnesty International in the Middle East, reportedly said. "The sentences should immediately be quashed."