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Saudi Teacher Jailed for 20 Years Over Critical Social Media Posts

Photo: Human Rights watch

Saudi Teacher Sentenced to 20 Years Over Critical Social Media Posts

Dubai: A Saudi Arabian teacher has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for posting critical content on social media, as reported by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and confirmed by the convicted man's brother on Tuesday. 

Asaad al-Ghamdi, aged 47, was apprehended in November 2022 during a nighttime raid at his residence in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, according to HRW. The arrest was carried out in response to his social media activity, which was deemed critical of the government.

On May 29, Ghamdi was convicted by Saudi Arabia's Specialised Criminal Court. This court, established in 2008, is tasked with handling cases related to terrorism. HRW stated that Ghamdi was sentenced "to 20 years in prison on charges related to his peaceful social media activity," denouncing the sentence as "yet another escalation in the country's ever-worsening crackdown on freedom of expression."

Court documents reviewed by HRW revealed that Ghamdi was charged with "challenging the religion and justice of the King and the Crown Prince" and "publishing false and malicious news and rumors." The posts that led to his conviction included criticisms of projects tied to the Vision 2030 reform agenda. One specific post mourned Abdallah al-Hamed, a prominent Saudi human rights activist who died in prison after being convicted for his activism.

Ghamdi’s brother Mohammad is also facing similar charges. Mohammad, a government critic who exposed alleged corruption and human rights violations on social media, was sentenced to death last year based on his online activity.

Saeed, the third brother, an Islamic scholar and government critic residing in exile in the United Kingdom, condemned the verdict against Asaad. "The accusations are arbitrary and unjust because they are all based on tweets," Saeed told AFP, suggesting that he himself might be the ultimate target.

Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia's judiciary has convicted numerous individuals, imposing lengthy prison sentences for their social media posts. Among these cases, Nourah al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison in 2022 for her social media criticisms of the government. Salma al-Shehab, a member of the Sunni-ruled kingdom's Shiite minority, received a 34-year sentence in 2022 for aiding dissidents seeking to "disrupt public order" by relaying their tweets.

Additionally, Manahel al-Otaibi, a 29-year-old blogger and fitness instructor, was arrested in November 2022 for challenging Saudi male guardianship laws and the requirement for women to wear the customary body-shrouding abaya robe. The Specialised Criminal Court sentenced her to 11 years in prison on January 9. However, this sentence was only made public later in a Saudi submission to United Nations special rapporteurs enquiring about the case.

July 10, 2024 11:08 a.m. 571

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