Meet The Most Controversial Saudis On Social Media

Several human rights activists and outspoken social media personalities have found themselves behind bars in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, ruled by the conservative royals of the Saud clan, is not a place with much freedom.

However, while the world knows much about the lack of rights of the Saudi women and the lavish lifestyles of the royalty, the fate of the rest is usually overshadowed.

According to a human rights monitoring and advocacy group in Saudi Arabia, several rights activists have been sentenced to jail for being “outspoken” or allegedly inciting religious hatred.

Ironically, the kingdom is one of the most active countries on social media in the Arab world.

"It's a new focus for the government as it reaches out to a young Saudi population that is more likely to use social media," Saudi analyst and commentator Mohammed Alyahya said. "That's the most effective way to capture their attention."

One recent showcase for this was the launch of 31-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plans, which used Twitter alongside traditional media to build anticipation and introduce hashtags for key discussion phrases.

"A strong and determined country with a connection between the government and the citizen," one of the slogans read.

But the ruling Al Saud family makes sure they "guide" their people with respect to freedom of expression and those who don't fall in line may end up behind bars.

Here are some of the social media stars who've had to pay hard for practicing their basic right of expression.

Hamza Kashgari @Hmzmz

Hamza Kashgari

Hamza Kashgari Mohamad Najeeb, a Saudi poet, former columnist and a pro-democracy activist, was detained for his controversial tweets in which he spoke directly to prophet Muhammad, addressing him as a friend and an equal. He said in the tweets that there were aspects of the Prophet Muhammad that he loved, and aspects that he hated.

“I have loved the rebel in you” but “I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.” He also wrote, “I shall shake [your hand] as equals do…I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

In another tweet he said, "On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."

He was arrested "for crossing red lines and denigrating religious beliefs in God and His Prophet."

He left Saudi Arabia, trying to seek political asylum in New Zealand but in February 2012, he was extradited from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, back to Saudi Arabia and was jailed for nearly two years without trial.

Waleed Abu Al-Khair @abualkhair

Waleed Abu Al-Khair

Waleed Abu Al-Khair is a lawyer and the founder of Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He has also taken upon himself to represent Saudis arrested for political reasons, most whom are held without trial.

No doubt he irks the Saudi authoritarian government so much.

His Twitter feed is followed by many in the Kingdom who seek information and news on trials, procedures and the legal process of political prisoners. He is often considered an invaluable source of legal information in Saudi Arabia.

Manal al-Sharif @manal_alsharif

Manal Al Sharif

Manal al-Sharif is perhaps the most well-known Saudi woman activist, especially when it comes to the women's right to drive.

Sharif, definitely the voice of the modern Saudi women, frequently engages in debates with her followers and detractors online.

Currently based outside of Saudi Arabia, her fight for her country's women is still on.

Raif Al Badawi @raif_badawi

Raif Al Badawi

Perhaps the best and the most well known Saudi blogger and activist, Raif Badawi was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in jail and fined 1 million riyals (about $266,000).

His “crime” was to exercise his right to freedom of expression by setting up the Saudi Liberal Network in 2008. The website was meant to be a discussion forum for seculars, like himself, who didn’t have any other platform in Saudi Arabia to voice their opinions.

Abu Sin

Abu Sin

The Saudi teenager became an online sensation for his hilariously bashful online conversations with 21-year-old American YouTuber Christina Crockett, and was then arrested for his "unethical behavior" online. The authorities claimed he was 19, but in one of the videos, Crockett claimed he was only 13.

The online conversation between Sin and Crockett featured the two chatting from their respective homes in Saudi Arabia and California, merrily trying to overcome the language barrier and jokingly declaring their love for each other.

 “The two of them [Abu Sin and Crockett] composed enticing videos which received thousands of followers and viewers from all over the world within a short period of time. Most of the viewers were from the Arab world. Abu Sin, nicknamed for his projecting tooth, became famous and received negative attention,” said Colonel Fawaz Al-Mayman, a spokesperson for Riyadh police.

Aboud Bad

Aboud Bad

His name is not known, some call him Aboud Bad, and the social media celebrity was arrested for “producing and distributing material insulting to public order,” which can be translated in to, "posting videos of himself dressed like a woman driving a car."

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