Saudi Man Sentenced To Death For Tweets Criticizing Nation's Leaders

A man in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to death for his Tweets criticizing the country’s leadership following an intensifying crackdown against dissent in the ultraconservative, Muslim-majority kingdom.

54-year-old Muhammad al-Ghamdi, a retired teacher and a father of seven, was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court on July 10 for his online activity. The court used his tweets, retweets, and YouTube activity as evidence against al-Ghamdi.

He was sentenced “following 5 tweets criticizing corruption and human rights violations,” according to his brother Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a well-known Islamic scholar and government critic currently running a human rights organization in the United Kingdom called Sanad.

Muhammad ran two anonymous accounts on X, formerly known as Twitter, and these accounts only had ten followers in total. He mostly used these accounts to retweet posts by other users that were critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Repression in Saudi Arabia has reached a terrifying new stage when a court can hand down the death penalty for nothing more than peaceful tweets,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi authorities have escalated their campaign against all dissent to mind-boggling levels and should reject this travesty of justice.

According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi authorities arrested Muhammad in front of his wife and children last June 11, 2022, outside his home in Mecca. He was taken to the al-Dhahba Prison, where he was held in solitary confinement for four months.

He also did not have access to a lawyer for almost a year before his conviction “under article 30 of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism law for ‘describing the King or the Crown Prince in a way that undermines religion or justice,’ article 34 for ‘supporting a terrorist ideology,’ article 43 for ‘communication with a terrorist entity,’ and article 44 for publishing false news ‘with the intention of executing a terrorist crime.’”

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights reported that Saudi Arabia executed at least 92 people this year, while the UK-based human rights organization ALQST recorded around 148 executions in 2022, more than double the number it recorded in 2021.

Lina Alhathloul, sister of released Saudi political prisoner Loujain al-Hathloul and head of monitoring at ALQST, said that Muhammad’s verdict came amid an “escalating crackdown” against freedom of expression and dissent in the kingdom. 

They are sending a clear and sinister message – that nobody is safe, and even a tweet can get you killed,” Alhathloul said.

Saeed said that the severity of his brother’s sentence was also designed to punish him. Human Rights Watch noted that the Saudi Arabian government retaliated against family members of government critics and dissidents to coerce them to return to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi authorities asked me several times to return to Saudi Arabia, but I refused to do so. It is very probable that this death sentence against my brother is in retaliation for my activity. Otherwise, his charges wouldn’t have carried such a severe penalty,” Saeed said.

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