Saudi Arabia recently announced it will punish online satire with up to five years in prison and a hefty fine, reported the public prosecutor, as part of the kingdom’s crackdown on dissidents.
“Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media ... will be considered a cybercrime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals ($800,000),” the public prosecution said in a tweet late Monday.
The kingdom’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has garnered harsh criticism from international communities and human rights advocates for targeting political dissidents since his appointment in 2017, even as he speaks of a “moderate” Saudi Arabia with an open society.
Over the past year, the ultra-conservative kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, academics and clerics who have voiced their disagreements with the government. The country’s anti-cybercrime law has also been doling out punitive actions against critics. Now, satire will also be punishable, according to the new announcement.
Saudi Arabia’s outlandish laws on cybercrime have been cause for concern among international rights group in the past.
Dozens of Saudi citizens have been charged, arrested and convicted for spreading unrest in the political spectrum by posting criticism of the kingdom’s policies on social media, especially Twitter.
In September 2017, officials ordered citizens to report all activities on social media that fall under Saudi Arabia’s broad definition of ”terrorist” crimes.
On Tuesday, public prosecutor announced it was seeking the death penalty for Sheikh Salman al-Awda, a prominent reformist cleric, who endorsed peace and tolerance in a tweet.
The cleric's troubles began with a tweet that referred to Saudi Arabia's diplomatic fallout with Qatar last June. Al-Awda reportedly posted a news story about a possible reconciliation between the two countries with an accompanying message that read, according to Amnesty International, “May God harmonize between their hearts for what is good for their people.”
Within a few hours, he was arrested at his home without a warrant.
The arrest shocked many because his message wasn’t anti-government or anti-religion. It was pro-peace.
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