According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Saudi Arabia has permitted government-appointed scholars and clerics to preach hatred and discrimination against the country’s religious minorities, including Shia Muslims.

The HRW released a 62-page report on Tuesday, entitled “‘They Are Not Our Brothers’: Hate Speech by Saudi Officials”.

The rights body said Saudi clerics often refer to Shias as rafidha or rawafidh, which mean rejectionists, and stigmatize their beliefs with impunity.

It quoted a member of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom’s highest religious body, as saying that Shia Muslims “are not our brothers ... rather they are brothers of Satan.”

“Saudi Arabia has relentlessly promoted a reform narrative in recent years, yet it allows government-affiliated clerics and textbooks to openly demonize religious minorities such as Shia,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

“This hate speech prolongs the systematic discrimination against the Shia minority and – at its worst – is employed by violent groups who attack them,” she added.

The HRW also warned that the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia is often subjected to discriminatory treatment or arbitrarily criminalization of their religious practices.

It pointed out that a Shia citizen was sentenced in 2015 to two months in jail and 60 lashes for hosting private Shia group prayers.

A Sunni man was also convicted in 2014 of “sitting with Shia”, the rights group added.