By Michael Krieger
Saudi Arabia’s fear of the viral free-speech platform Twitter has been well documented as of late. I first highlighted it last year in the post, Saudi Religious Police Chief Goes on the Attack…Against Twitter, in which I noted:
You know something isn’t right in your country when you have a “religious police force.” You know something is really, really not right in your country when the head of that religious police force starts condemning twitter and saying its users will go to hell as a consequence. Talk about pathetic. Just more strange and panicked behavior from the Saudi government. From the BBC:
The head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police has warned citizens against using Twitter, which is rising in popularity among Saudis.
Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said anyone using social media sites – and especially Twitter – “has lost this world and his afterlife”.
Apparently, a year and a half worth of tweets hasn’t eased the good Sheikh’s concerns. Just last week he proclaimed that Twitter is “the source of all evil and devastation.”
By the way, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, is the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, so the monarchy’s top Muslim cleric. He was also “voted the 12th most influential Muslim in the world in a recent poll.” Not sure who conducted the poll, but I’m assuming it wasn’t Rasmussen or Nate Silver.
All that said, comments are one thing, actions quite another. It appears that the “war on twitter” is now resulting in serious jail sentences. The Wall Street Journal reports that:
A Saudi court in Riyadh on Monday sentenced three lawyers to up to eight years in jail after they criticized the Ministry of Justice on Twitter. The lawyers were also hit with travel bans of varying lengths and an indefinite ban on appearing in the media or using social networking websites.
The lawyers were charged with “contempt of the judiciary, interfering with its independence, criticizing the justice system and the judiciary” in their tweets which “undermines general order,” according to a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The latest trial was before the Specialized Criminal Court, which usually tries terrorism suspects.
Naturally, the “war on terror” has become the “war on twitter.”
In March, a man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for posting tweets to encourage people to take part in anti-government demonstrations. That followed another sentence of seven days in jail against a journalist who tweeted about an electricity blackout in the northern part of the country.
The three lawyers, one of them a Harvard Law School graduate, have often used the social media platform to express their frustration with the performance of the Ministry of Justice, especially what they saw as failure to implement reforms as part of a $2 billion project to overhaul the judiciary that was announced by King Abdullah in October 2007.
With allies like these…
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