Outrage is building after it emerged that a retired teacher from Saudi Arabia will be put to death over a series of tweets criticising the government’s human rights record.
On July 10, Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court convicted Muhammad al-Ghamdi, 54, of several criminal offences using his tweets, retweets, and YouTube activity as the evidence against him, according to Human Rights Watch.
The tweets in question allegedly relate to criticisms of the Saudi royal family and a push to release political prisoner Salman al-Awda.
The organization has slammed the decision, and hit out at the ultra-conservative nation’s “crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful political dissent”.
“Repression in Saudi Arabia has reached a terrifying new stage when a court can hand down the death penalty for nothing more than peaceful tweets,” Human Rights Watch Saudi Arabia researcher Joey Shea said.
“Saudi authorities have escalated their campaign against all dissent to mind-boggling levels and should reject this travesty of justice.”
The organization claimed Mr al-Ghamdi was first arrested on June 11, 2022 and was held in solitary confinement for months with no opportunity to communicate with his family, a lawyer or the outside world.
His brother, Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, is a high-profile Islamic scholar and vocal critic of the Saudi regime who is based in the UK, and he claims his sibling’s arrest and sentence was an attempt by authorities to exact revenge on him.
Posting on Twitter last month, he said his brother had been sentenced “following 5 tweets criticising corruption and human rights violations” and that the “false ruling aims to spite me personally after failed attempts by the investigations to return me to the country”.
Meanwhile, court documents seen by Human Rights Watch revealed Mr al-Ghamdi had been sentenced to death on July 10 under article 30 of Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism law for “describing the King or the Crown Prince in a way that undermines religion or justice”, article 34 for “supporting a terrorist ideology”, article 43 for “communication with a terrorist entity” and article 44 for publishing false news “with the intention of executing a terrorist crime”.
The sentence was decided upon as the crimes “targeted the status of the King and the Crown Prince” and because the “magnitude of his actions is amplified by the fact they occurred through a global media platform, necessitating a strict punishment”.
Lina Alhathloul, the head of monitoring and advocacy at UK human rights organization ALQST, also took to Twitter to condemn the ruling.
“Al-Ghamdi’s death sentence over tweets is extremely horrific but stands in line with the #Saudi authorities’ escalating crackdown. They are sending a clear and sinister message — that nobody is safe and even a tweet can get you killed,” she said.
Saudi Arabia has already executed at least 92 people this year, and in 2022 it carried out 148 executions, more than double the prior year’s grim tally.
In March last year, Saudi Arabia made global headlines after announcing 81 men had been executed in a single day, becoming the kingdom’s biggest mass execution in many years.
Al Jazeera reported at the time that the men were sentenced to death for a range of offenses, including murder and terrorism.
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