Saudi Arabia: five years for tweeting

Amnesty International on March 25 expressed concern over the conviction of journalist Alaa Brinji by the Saudi Arabian Specialized Criminal Court. Alaa Brinji has been in detention since May 2014 and has not been allowed access to a lawyer. He was convicted this week on charges of insulting the rulers of the country, inciting public opinion, accusing security officers of killing protestors, ridiculing Islamic religious figures and violating the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. All of the charges are based on tweets by Alaa Brinji expressing oppositional views. Some of of the tweets expressed support for women's rights, human rights defenders, and prisoners of conscience. The sentence includes five years in prison, an eight-year travel ban, and a heavy fine. The court also ordered that his Twitter account be closed. In its press release, Amnesty called Alaa Brinji "a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing his views." AI has called for his release, and urged Saudi Arabia to take accountability for "its gross and systematic violations of human rights."

Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism for alleged human rights abuses in recent months. In February, a court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments in social media posts. In January a well-known human rights activist, Samar Badawi, was detained and interrogated by prosecutors, allegedly for her involvement in managing a Twitter account that campaigned for the release of her former husband, a Saudi lawyer who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for his activism.

That same month Saudi officials announced that the government had executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges, including a prominent Shiite cleric who had rallied protesters against the government. In November, a Saudi court sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy, or abandoning his Muslim faith. Also in November, Amnesty International reported that Saudi Arabia has executed a record 151 people in 2015, the highest number since 1995. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90. Amnesty said that almost half of all the executions carried out in 2015 were for offenses that are not considered "most serious crimes" under international human rights law. Saudi Arabia also reportedly continues to impose the death sentence on individuals under the age of 18, again violating human rights laws.

From Jurist, March 25. Used with permission.

Note: The surge in executions by Saudi Arabia and regional rival Iran is contributing to a global spike in use of the death penalty over the past two years.