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Saudi Arabia: 7 Convicted for Facebook Postings About Protests


World  (tags: 'CIVILLIBERTIES!', 'HUMANRIGHTS!', conflict, corruption, ethics, freedoms, government, middle-east, politics, Saudi Arabia, society )

Kit
- 388 days ago - hrw.org
Sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there's no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks.



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Comments

Kit B. (277)
Friday July 5, 2013, 5:56 am
Map of Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Watch



Saudi Arabia sentenced seven government critics to prison on June 24, 2013, for allegedly inciting protests and harming public order, largely by using Facebook. The Specialized Criminal Court sentenced the men, all from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years and barred them from travelling abroad for additional periods.

The European Union’s High Representative Catherine Ashton and EU member states’ representatives, who are meeting with their Gulf region counterparts in Bahrain on June 30, should condemn the convictions, Human Rights Watch said.

“Sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there’s no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If the EU doesn’t raise these cases with Saudi officials this weekend, its silence will look like craven compliance with the rights abuses of an authoritarian state.”

Saudi authorities arrested the men between September 23 and 26, 2011, then detained them in the General Investigations Prison in Damman for a year and a half before charging them and putting them on trial on April 29. They were tried before the Specialized Criminal Court, set up in 2008 to deal with terrorism-related cases. Authorities did not accuse the seven of directly participating in protests, and the court failed to investigate their allegations that intelligence officers tortured them into signing confessions.

Human Rights Watch has called repeatedly for abolition of the court because of its lack of independence and unfair procedures.

In the court judgment, which Human Rights Watch obtained, the charges against the seven varied. But the court convicted them all of joining Facebook pages to “incite protests, illegal gathering, and breaking allegiance with the king” and of “assisting and encouraging these calls and corresponding with the [Facebook pages’] followers and concealing them.” All seven were also convicted of violating article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which prohibits producing, sending, or storing any material via an information network that “harms public order.”

The court imposed its harshest sentence – 10 years in prison – on Abd al-Hamid al-Amer. Prosecutors accused him of founding two Facebook groups, through which he allegedly “conscripted others to join the movements” and “gave them ideas and guidance on the important sites in which to protest and set the timing [of the protests].”

None of the charges accused the seven of using or advocating violence, as the presiding judge confirmed in the judgment, saying, “Breaking allegiance [with the king] comes by way of arms and it comes by way of protests, marches, and writing articles and publications … the behavior of the [second] course … is sometimes the more dangerous and more malicious method.”

The Facebook groups that prosecutors cited, including the “al-Ahsa March 4 Youth Movement” and “The Free Men of al-Ahsa,” arose in early 2011 after the authorities arrested Tawfiq al-Amer, a prominent Shia sheikh and religious leader in the al-Ahsa region of Eastern Province who had publicly called for a constitutional monarchy. His arrest provoked widespread protests and the authorities arrested dozens of his supporters in al-Ahsa in March 2011. The same court sentenced the sheikh to four years in prison in April 2013 and banned him from writing and public speaking.

The seven men all admitted to participating in the Facebook pages in support of al-Amer, but told the court they were unaware that it was a crime. They denied having any intention to break allegiance with the king or harm public order.

The prosecution, however, produced confessions that each of the seven had signed in pre-trial custody, which the court accepted as evidence of guilt although several of the defendants said intelligence officers had tortured them into signing the confessions. The presiding judge dismissed the torture allegations out of hand, describing the defendants’ claims as “not acceptable” due especially to “their inability to prove the allegations of coercion and torture.”

“The judge’s outright dismissal of the defendants’ torture allegations shows how little interest he had in finding the truth,” Stork said. “What these men did should never have been considered crimes in the first place, and the outcome was effectively determined from day one.”

A family member of one of the seven prisoners told Human Rights Watch that none of them had the money to hire a lawyer. Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Procedure Law does not entitle defendants to legal representation, and there is no provision for a public defender for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Family members told Human Rights Watch that the seven intend to appeal their convictions. If they do so unsuccessfully, the time they have already served in prison will be deducted from their sentences, the court judgment says.

Saudi Arabia has no written penal code and prosecutors and judges have discretion to criminalize acts based on their own interpretation of Islamic law. The lack of clear and predictable criminal law violates international human rights principles, such as those that prohibit arbitrary arrest and guarantee fair trials. Article 15 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2009, states: “No crime and no penalty can be established without a prior provision of the law. In all circumstances, the law most favorable to the defendant shall be applied.” International human rights standards also prohibit the criminalization of peaceful speech.

Article 32 of the Arab Charter guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to impart news to others by any means.

The conviction of the seven comes amid a series of other convictions of peaceful dissidents and human rights activists in June. The same court sentenced a human rights activist, Mikhlif al-Shammari, to five years in prison on June 17 for “sowing discord” and a host of other charges stemming from his peaceful activism. Two days earlier, a Khobar court sentenced the women’s rights advocates Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni to 10 months in prison for allegedly “inciting a woman against her husband.” On June 24, a court in the central Najd town of Buraida sentenced human rights activist Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr to eight years in prison on charges that included “slandering the king” and “joining an unlicensed organization.”

“The EU should publicly press Saudi Arabia to stop jailing human rights activists and peaceful dissidents, and to respect its international human rights obligations,” Stork said.
****

Human Rights Watch

 

JL A. (272)
Friday July 5, 2013, 6:53 am
I agree with Human Rights Watch and hope international pressure will lead to elimination of this kangaroo court.
 

Arielle S. (316)
Friday July 5, 2013, 8:58 am
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." ~ Martin Luther King
 

Angelika R. (146)
Friday July 5, 2013, 9:32 am
Even if that EU delegation delivered a protest that would hardly have impressed the Saudis,let alone change anything. Much more international pressure might over time. Thx Kt
 

Sue H. (7)
Friday July 5, 2013, 9:56 am
:(
 

Gloria picchetti (287)
Friday July 5, 2013, 10:38 am
Noted.
 

pam w. (191)
Friday July 5, 2013, 10:38 am
Islam is totally incompatible with freedoms of speech, religion, personal expression and civil rights of any kind.
 

Dee C. (214)
Friday July 5, 2013, 10:53 am
There is no excuse for this sort of atrocity against any human expressing their opinions..Saudi Arabia MUST know it limits..yet seem to just not care..

Thanks Kit..
sadly noted
 

Tamara Noforwardsplz (185)
Friday July 5, 2013, 11:21 am
I second that Arielle! Noted with a sad heart. Thanks Kit.
 

Allan Yorkowitz (452)
Friday July 5, 2013, 12:38 pm
Saudi Arabia had historically ben a lecel headed country. It appears things have changed.
 

. (0)
Friday July 5, 2013, 1:13 pm
This is what happens when the country is ruled by a king and royal family. Our government never says anything because they have been a powerful ally and have oil.
 

Aurea Walker (186)
Friday July 5, 2013, 2:34 pm
This type of modus operandi is typical of most of the Middle East as they are still in the 14th century mentality and it will take another century or more to move into the 21st century. What we here in America need to worry about is what is happening to us. Case in point the guy who here in Southern California got arrested and threatened with a 13 year sentence for writing with chalk ,on a sidewalk in front of a bank some disparaging truths about the bank. Oh yes just google it, thank goodness the judge has a sense of justice and threw out the charge. None the less the guy got ARRESTED AND CHARGED, the next time something similar happens, what if you do not get a sane judge? So we need to make sure we cya ourselves. Also, there is a plethora of judgeship's open that the GOP is blocking president Obama from assigning judges to. Hmmmm? Nah no conspiracy here right?
 

Dianna M. (13)
Friday July 5, 2013, 2:37 pm
Well, let's see--seven people arrested for posting on Facebook in Saudi Arabia; I seem to remember that two deputies here in the US were fired for 'liking' their boss' rival's Facebook page--hey, I think we have more in common with the Saudis than we thought!
 

David Menard (43)
Friday July 5, 2013, 2:45 pm
Let see Just how far does anyone really think the US is from doing the same?The NSA spies on everyone and I don't believe any of the BS that they get warrants and that they don't spy on everyone.
 

Lois Jordan (55)
Friday July 5, 2013, 3:01 pm
Yes, it seems to me that the day won't be long in coming that I will see: "U.S.:7 Convicted for Facebook Postings About Protests"....or, maybe Tweets or Instagram....We are on our way down that slippery slope already. Time to co-ordinate some mass mailings to our Congress critters, and not let up until the Patriot Act, NDAA, FISA courts and the rest are changed to reflect our constitution rather than continue shredding it to pieces.
 

Rose NoFWDSPLZ (277)
Friday July 5, 2013, 4:35 pm
OUTRAGEOUS
 

Phyllis Baxter (40)
Friday July 5, 2013, 5:31 pm
This is what you get when you have an authoritarian regime based on religion. There will never be any justice unless state and church are separated- we must resist all efforts in our democratic countries to have religion take hold of political discourse once again as there is no room for humanity when law is based solely on some 'holy' books allegedly dictated by some unseen deity.
 

Tom Edgar (56)
Friday July 5, 2013, 8:57 pm
Alan Yorkowitch. You are either very young or have a really short memory span. Saudi Arabia has NEVER been moderate in any sphere. Affiliation to any religion bur especially fundamentalist ones such Islam and many Christian sects requires complete and total submission to their imaginary Gods will. The problem is that they also believe everybody else should conform,.

Saudi Arabia is the nation, from whence came that arch enemy of the U S A Bin Laden. Whose family were such close friends of the then President George Bush that they had exclusive protection that enabled them to leave America to return to Arabia, immediately after the twin towers were toppled. Along with Egypt they were the only two countries Arabia does have the all important oil, and Egypt is seen as a middle eastern buffer protecting Israel's interests. (At American tax payer's expense).
 

Paul Girardin (140)
Friday July 5, 2013, 9:38 pm
Use Facebook safely in the comfort of your own home, it's the next best thing, they said!

Well NOT if you happen to live in the Arab part of Western Asia (Southwest Asia)!

They did Facebook no they will face time away from everything and that is a sad state of affairs!

Someday even the sand will rise up to smother them!
 

Paul Girardin (140)
Friday July 5, 2013, 9:41 pm
I meant Facebook now not no!

Them = the bad guys!
 

Colleen L. (2)
Friday July 5, 2013, 11:49 pm
That is really sad that people can't expresss their fee;omgs without such punishment. I hope things get changed for the better there. Thanks Kit
 

Inge Bjorkman (131)
Saturday July 6, 2013, 12:38 am
Totally unacceptable, some countries spy on people via email and then registers them as terrorists, even civilized countries like Sweden and the U.S.
Love and Peace
 

Mary Donnelly (47)
Saturday July 6, 2013, 3:48 am
Thanks Kit.
 

Theodore Shayne (56)
Saturday July 6, 2013, 5:13 am
Noted
 

Jennifer C. (172)
Saturday July 6, 2013, 6:38 am
Thanks.
 

Kit B. (277)
Saturday July 6, 2013, 10:12 am

I keep hearing that Saudi Arabia is changing, slowly allowing more freedoms. Freedom is not allowed nor disallowed it is either acknowledged and respected or it is not. This country is considered a "friend" to the United States? With friends like this who needs an enemy? Every thing we as Americans stand for is suppressed in Saudi Arabia, we need new friends and to get off the OIL tit.
 

Michael Kirkby (83)
Saturday July 6, 2013, 3:25 pm
Why am I not surprised?
 

Marija Mohoric (50)
Sunday July 7, 2013, 7:26 am
noted, thank you
 

Past Member (0)
Sunday July 7, 2013, 10:12 pm
The things we take for granted EVERY SINGLE DAY...........
 

Sergio Padilla (62)
Wednesday July 10, 2013, 5:59 pm
Thanks
 
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