In yet another case of severely punishing people simply for their use of social media to criticize the government, Saudi Arabia sentenced a man to death, a move that was strongly rebuked by Amnesty International.
This Wednesday, Amnesty International reported that a Saudi court has sentenced Mohammed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a Saudi national, to death over his posts on Twitter, and his activity on YouTube to protest the Saudi government.
According to Amnesty’s report, court documents showed that the charges levied against al-Ghamdi include “betraying his religion,” “disturbing the security of society,” “conspiring against the government” and “impugning the kingdom and the crown prince” — all for his activity online that involved re-sharing critics’ posts.
“Saudi officials must quash the conviction and death sentence handed down by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) on 9 July against 54-year-old retired teacher Mohammad bin Nasser al-Ghamdi solely for his peaceful online activity on Twitter and YouTube and immediately release him,” Amnesty International said in its Wednesday report.
This new case of violating the right of free speech by the Saudi government comes as the Kingdom is already under huge criticism over the similar cases of long jail sentences for the similar reasons.
Lasing out at the Kingdom for the unjust and inhumane verdict, Lina Alhathloul, the head of monitoring and advocacy at the London-based advocacy group ALQST said that “Al-Ghamdi’s death sentence over tweets is extremely horrific but stands in line with the Saudi authorities’ escalating crackdown”.
Alarming the international community for the silence against Saudi Arabia’s approach, Alhathloul also noted that “lengthy prison sentences issued for free speech, such as 27 years against Salma al-Shehab, have not received sufficient outcry, and the authorities have taken this as a green light to double down on their repression, that nobody is safe and even a tweet can get you killed”. Officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the sentence.
Joey Shea, a researcher at Human Rights Watch also reacted to the move and said that “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”.
Why Alhathloul? Why sentencing him with death penalty?
To compound the puzzle, Amnesty further revealed that Alhathloul was only a retired school teacher living in the city of Mecca, and his criticizing the Saudi government was not going to affect the minds of others as he has a total of just 10 followers on both of his anonymous Twitter accounts.
But as the Amnesty’s report noted, he has a brother named Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, who is a well-known critic of the Saudi government and lives in the United Kingdom.
“This false ruling aims to spite me personally after failed attempts by the investigators to have me return to the country,” the brother tweeted last Thursday. However terrifying, cases like this are not new in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the country has a long record of arresting the family members of its critics in the past as a means to pressure those abroad into returning home.
Saudi Arabia is by far one of the top executioners in the world, according to Amnesty International. Only in 2022, the country executed 196 inmates, the highest recorded executions by a country in the last three decades. Only in one single day back in March 2022, the Kingdom executed 81 people, which was the largest known mass execution carried out in Saudi Arabia in its modern history.
However, al-Ghamdi’s case appears to signal even harsher crackdowns against activists in Saudi Arabia as it was the first case of death penalty against someone only for their online behavior.