Saudi Arabia once again punished a Saudi citizen to death simply for using social media platforms to criticize the government.
In yet another move to sock human rights advocates and organizations, Saudi Arabia sentenced a law professor to death for criticizing the government on social media.
According to a report by The Guardian on this Sunday, the 65-year-old pro-reform cleric, Awad Al-Qarni, is accused by the government of Saudi Arabia of using such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram to disseminate anti-governmental news. Prior to his arrest, Qarni had nearly 2 million followers only on Twitter.
Qarni was arrested more than 5 years ago in September 2017. At the time, then-newly appointed Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) already started a massive crackdown against dissent as part of an anti-corruption drive.
Describing the story of his father’s arrest by armed police in civilian clothes, Qarni’s son, Nasser, said in an interview with the Gradian that his father was arrested in the most brutal way; “More than 100 men armed with machine guns and pistols. They were surrounding the house. We were forcibly prevented from entering the house. It was like a battlefield. And they finally arrested my father in the most brutal way,” he said.
Nasser fled the kingdom last year and is now residing in Britain where he is seeking asylum.
In efforts to dishonor Qarni, the Saudi media has been trying since his arrest to portray the clergyman as a dangerous preacher. This is while many in and out of the Kingdom who knew Qarni have said that he was an important and well-regarded intellectual.
In addition to charges related to his Twitter posts against the Saudi government, Qarni is also accused of participating in a WhatsApp group chat and creating a Telegram account, as well as of praising the Muslim Brotherhood in videos.
Criminalization of social media usage under MBS
Since coming to power as crown prince back in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman has increasingly taken an iron feast approach in dealing with those who use social media platforms to criticize the Saudi government, especially the MBS himself.
Last year Salma Al-Shehab, a PhD student and mother of two from Leeds university in the UK was sentenced to 34 years in prison for similar charges of having a Twitter account and following and retweeting human rights activists. Around the same time, another woman, Noura Al-Qahtani, was also sentenced to 45 years in prison simply for using Twitter to criticize the government in the Kingdom.
Speaking to the Gradian with a state of shock over Qarni’s death penalty news, Khalid Aljabri, who lives in exile and whose father was a former Saudi intelligence officer, said that “it is beyond abhorrent that a prominent law professor faces the death penalty for using Twitter,”
Likewise, Jeed Basyouni, the head of Middle East and North African advocacy at the human rights group, Reprieve, rebuked the news and said that Qarni’s case is part of a trend in which scholars and academics face the death penalty for tweeting and expressing their views.
But the fight against critics of the Kingdom who use social media to rebuke MBS’s policies and human rights violations is not limited to arresting and executing anti-government faces. The Saudi government and state-controlled investors have also recently increased their financial stake in popular social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, to further control the world of media and have a share in social media-related policy makings and restrictions.
Just to give an example, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi investor, is the second-largest investor in Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover of the social media platform.