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Saudi Arabia gives activist eight-year jail term

This file photo shows the entrance to the so-called Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International says a court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a human rights activist to eight years in prison under a law that, according to the rights group, aims to silence human rights defenders and suppress free speech in the country.

The London-based rights organization said the ruling was issued on Sunday when Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, the only founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was tried by Saudi Arabia’s so-called Specialized Criminal Court.

According to the rights group, Shubaily is accused of a number of different charges that include communicating with foreign organizations and providing information to Amnesty International for use in two of its reports.

“After shutting ACPRA down three years ago, the authorities have prosecuted and jailed its founding members one by one in a merciless bid to suppress criticism of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record,” James Lynch, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in reaction to the ruling.

“The authorities have once again proven that they are determined to conceal the truth about Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record. The authorities must urgently ensure his conviction is quashed and they should not detain him,” he added, in reference to Shubaily.

Lynch also called on Saudi Arabia’s international allies to “press the [Saudi] authorities to end this iron-fist clampdown on civil society.”

Riyadh has long been under fire at the international level for its grim human rights record, its imposition of numerous restrictions on freedom of speech, and the harsh way the courts deal with dissent.

Notable activists, including Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old blogger who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his writings on the Internet, have been behind bars in Saudi Arabia since 2012.

Last month, the United Nations (UN)’s torture committee called on the Saudi government to stop physical punishment, including flogging and amputations, carried out against convicts in the country.

Back in January, Saudi Arabia also executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a highly respected Shia cleric and an outspoken critic of Riyadh from Qatif, only to trigger massive condemnations around the world.

Human Rights Watch says the Saudi judicial system is sentencing senior reform advocates, activists, and writers to lengthy jail terms on vague charges.

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