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Saudi man handed 18-year prison sentence for social media activism on Twitter

Imprisoned Saudi social media activist Muhammad al-Jedaei (Photo via Twitter)

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a social media activist to more than a dozen years in prison, amid an intensified crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against pro-democracy campaigners, Muslim preachers, and intellectuals in the kingdom.

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a US-based rights group created by murdered Saudi dissident and the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law for the Arab world, announced that the so-called Saudi Court of Appeals slapped an 18-yaer jail term against social and cultural activist, Muhammad al-Jedaei, better known as Jaddo, earlier this week.

Jedaei was detained nearly two and a half years ago as part of an arrest campaign, which targeted dozens of political activists, democracy advocates as well as social media activists.

The news comes as the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court has sentenced a woman to 45 years in prison for her social media posts, marking the second such case in weeks.

Nourah al-Qahtani received the heavy sentence on appeal after she was convicted of “using the internet to tear the (country's) social fabric” and “violating public order” via social media, DAWN said.

The Washington-based group added that she was convicted under the kingdom's so-called Counter-Terrorism and Anti-Cyber Crime Law, and shared a copy of the court document.

Earlier this month, Saudi officials sentenced women's rights activist Salma al-Shehab to 34 years in prison.

The United Nations Human Rights Council said in a statement that the jail term handed down to Shehab, a mother of two young children and a doctoral student at the United Kingdom’s Leeds University, is the longest sentence ever given to a women's rights defender in Saudi Arabia.

The UN rights council noted that Saudi authorities have taken advantage of the return to the international fold following the savage killing of Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to deepen crackdown on political opponents.

Shehab was initially sentenced to six years in prison for using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security,” the UN human Rights Council said, but after a public prosecutor asked for other alleged crimes to be taken into consideration, but an appeals court recently increased the sentence to 34 years along with a 34-year travel ban.

She was on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and had planned to return to the United Kingdom when she was detained, according to the Freedom Initiative, a Washington-based human rights organization.

Several human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Foundation, the Freedom Initiative, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and ALQST for Human Rights, have condemned the ruling against the Saudi women's rights activist, and called for her release.

Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested hundreds of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others for their political activism, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnation of the crackdown.

Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedom of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied by the kingdom's authorities.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

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