A court in Saudi Arabia has handed down a 10-year prison sentence to an activist who used Twitter to call for protests and sit-ins against the ruling Al Saud dynasty, and the release of dissidents.
On Tuesday, the Specialized Criminal Court found the unnamed man guilty of opening several Twitter accounts, and using the accounts to “call for protests and spread chaos to release detainees that are held for security and terrorism charges,” Arabic-language Saudi Arabian daily newspaper Okaz reported.
He also described Arab rulers as despots, published posts deemed offensive to security forces and joined a protest calling for the release of a detainee outside the prisoner’s home.
On January 12, Saudi authorities arrested the sister of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi along with her two-year-old daughter in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. She was questioned for four hours before being transferred to Dhaban prison.
Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, wrote on her Twitter page that Samar’s arrest was related to her alleged role in managing a Twitter account campaigning for the release of her ex-husband, Waleed Abulkhair.
On April 15, 2014, Abulkhair was arrested in the Specialized Criminal Court in Jeddah, where he was already attending the fifth session of his trial. His family did not receive any news about him until the next day, when his former wife went to the court and was told that he had been arrested and sent to prison.
In July that year, the human rights activist was convicted of a series of charges, among them communicating with “foreign agencies” as well as public incitement against the ruling Al Saud regime. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, and a 15-year ban on traveling. In addition, Abulkhair was fined 200,000 Saudi riyals (over USD 53,000).
The ruling was criticized by international human rights organizations, namely Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Abulkhair was the lawyer for Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Wahhabism, which is an extremely intolerant interpretation of Islam practiced in the oil-rich kingdom.
The Saudi blogger received his first 50 lashes in Jeddah on January 9, 2015. The other rounds of the punishment have been suspended in straight weeks.
Human Rights Watch says the Saudi judicial system is sentencing top reform advocates, activists, and writers to lengthy jail terms on vague charges related to freedom of speech.