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The Saudi Arabian Specialized Criminal Court has sentenced cyber activists who were arrested in September 2011 for “inciting protests” via Facebook to between 5 to 10 years in jail and has barred them from travelling abroad. Their trial began last April.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the men are planning to appeal the court judgment that convicts them of joining Facebook to “incite protests, illegal gathering, and breaking allegiance with the king and assisting and encouraging these calls and corresponding with the [Facebook pages’] followers and concealing them”. Abd al-Hamid al-Amer had the toughest sentence as the founder of the Facebook groups.

The BBC said the sentence is seen as the country’s latest move against online political dissent and Saudi Arabia is now reportedly under criticism for it.

HRW’s Middle East director Joe Stork said this action “sends a strong message that there’s no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks”.

In Saudi Arabia, protests and political gatherings are prohibited, and Press TV reports there are more than 40,000 political prisoners in jail in the country; most of them are prisoners of conscience.

All Voices reports the Shiite population based in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where the condemned cyber activists are from, have been complaining about government discrimination and humiliation for being a minority. The government said Iran used the Shiites to protest against the Saudi Arabian monarchy, but there has been no evidence.

Several human rights organizations condemn the lack of respect and protection freedom of expression rights suffer in the country. For instance, Freedom House ranks Saudi Arabia 184 out of 197 countries with a nonfree press system and Reporters Without Borders ranks it 163 out of 179 on its Press Freedom Index.

By Elisa Lopez Aguado.

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