RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia's government, facing mounting criticism for the planned execution of 14 Shiite Muslims, has issued a rare statement defending its judicial system.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Mansour al-Qafari says all defendants facing trial in Saudi Arabia receive due process.

In a statement published Friday in the Saudi Press Agency, al-Qafari says terrorism-related cases and death penalty verdicts are reviewed by an appeals court and the supreme court, with a total of 13 judges reviewing the case before an execution is carried out.

The 14 face execution for protests and violence against security forces. Rights group Reprieve says the initial judgment came from a "secretive" counterterrorism court.

Ultraconservative Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia have in the past referred to Shiites as apostates, and Shiite protesters have been accused of being allied with the kingdom's rival, Iran.