Human Lives Human Rights: The Saudi authorities have escalated their brutal crackdown on individuals using online spaces to voice their opinions.
People as young as ten years to 45 years were sentenced in 2022 to prison simply for peaceful online activities, including the longest sentence believed to ever be imposed on a Saudi woman for peaceful online expression.
Saudi Arabia also infiltrated at least one social media company to unlawfully obtain information on dissidents and control the information that is disseminated about the Kingdom online.
Saudi Arabia has a long and infamous record of cracking down on human rights defenders, journalists and members of civil society, and their targets now include ‘ordinary’ members of the public who are peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression online.
These shocking sentences send a chilling reminder to all Saudi citizens and residents that any dissent will not be tolerated.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is attempting to infiltrate online platforms to control the information that is posted about the Kingdom and its leaders.
Such repressive tactics expose the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia organizing global events that purport to champion the free flow of information online.
All arrested individuals were prosecuted by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) which was originally set up to try terrorism cases.
The SCC has used vague provisions under the anti-cybercrime and terrorism laws which equate peaceful expression and online activity with “terrorism” to prosecute these individuals.
These individuals were subjected to a range of human rights violations during their detention, including being held incommunicado and in solitary confinement, often for months at a time, and denied access to a lawyer throughout their pre-trial detention.
Some of them were also subjected to arbitrary travel bans, in contravention of international human rights law.
The dramatic increase in the length of prison sentences meted out by the SCC follows the appointment of a new judge as President of the court in June 2022.
This individual was part of the delegation sent by the Saudi authorities to Istanbul in October 2018 to allegedly clean-up evidence of the assassination and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate.
The Saudi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Twitter should also conduct internal investigations to identify the impact of the Saudi authorities’ infiltration attempts on its work, if it has not done so already, and make the results of its investigations public. It should also make clear what measures they have taken to prevent such breaches in the future.