Saudi Arabia has a history of handing out severe penalties for crimes as minor as protesting. In fact, the country has beheaded more than 175 people this year alone.
Now, in an outrageous new decision, the Gulf state has reportedly taken things a step further by creating a rule to punish ordinary people for what they write on Twitter and Facebook. Apparently from here on out, authorities can not only arrest online offenders and sentence them to lashes or house arrest, they can also execute them for spreading “rumors” against the kingdom.
The news about the latest ruling, aimed at the Internet users who “set the common view alight” and “cause confusion in societies,” comes from an anonymous source within the Saudi Ministry of Justice who conducted an interview with a local website, according to state-backed Makkah Newspaper.
As the international human right charity Reprieve reports, the “judicial source has confirmed to Makkah Online that the death penalty is the harshest of the penalties that can be enacted upon those who spread rumors which create civil discord, via social media platforms like Twitter.”
The punishments reportedly range from social media ban and arrest to flogging and execution.
While it remains unclear what type of comments or posts could land someone in jail (or worst), this is the first time that Saudi Arabia has specifically threatened to use such a harsh penalty for crimes committed on social media.
Given the nature of censorship in the Gulf country, it is almost impossible to determine which official actually disclosed the news, although it is unlikely that the claim was made without the consent of the authorities.
In addition to that, Makkah Newspaper – the publication that highlighted the new law in its recent article – reportedly enjoys government support. In fact, the governor of Mecca launched it last year in the presence of the minister for culture and information. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the anonymous source was indeed from within the government.
The shocking report comes as Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a young prisoner in Saudi Arabia who was arrested and sentenced to death as a teenager, awaits capital punishment of “death by crucifixion,” after the kingdom dismissed his final appeal.
Earlier this year, a prominent Saudi blogger Raif Al-Badawi also received 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.”
“The kingdom is executing people at double the rate of last year, with many of those facing the swordsman’s blade sentenced to death for drug offences, attending protests or exercising their right to free speech,” said Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve. “It is unthinkable that people could face a death sentence for a simple tweet, yet so far, neither the U.K. nor the U.S. – both key allies of Saudi Arabia – have taken a strong line against this appalling behavior.”
The record-high execution rate is not the only human rights abuse committed by the Saudi government. The country is currently being criticized for mismanaging Mecca where a stampede killed over 1,000 during the Hajj pilgrimage last month.
Saudi Arabia has never been a champion of human rights, but the government is definitely not doing itself any favors with this new ruling. Although the kingdom has always censored the media and punished citizens who dared to speak out against the government’s atrocities on any forum, this decision takes things to a whole new level.
Punishing people for speaking their minds or for raising their voices against injustice seems to be the worst kind of discipline.