Saudi Government Looking To Jail More Citizens For 'Harming Public Order' With Their Religious Tweets
from the perpetual-crackdown-mode dept
The internet may be an amazing communication tool, but it’s also a handy way for governments to keep an eye on their citizens. Saudi Arabia uses the internet for multiple things — mainly monitoring dissent and controlling communication.
An expansive cybercrime law, coupled with longstanding statutes outlawing criticism of the official religion, have made it easy for the Saudi government to jail critics and cut off communications platforms. Bloggers have been imprisoned and encrypted services asked for technical details presumably in hopes of inserting the government into private conversations.
The prosecution of speech the government doesn’t like continues, as Reuters reports:
A group of Twitter users will be indicted in Saudi Arabia on charges of harming public order for threatening the “safety and moderate ideology of society” through extremism, according to a statement on state news agency SPA.
The country’s chief prosecutor summoned the Twitter users on Sunday, the statement said, without naming them or specifying how many were accused.
The substance of the offending tweets can only be speculated about. Presumably, they violated the kingdom’s self-image and/or that of the prevailing religion. More statements were made by officials, but none of them offered clarity on the tweets’ content. Instead, they were contradictory statements using the Saudi version of “We’re big supporters of free speech, but..”
In a separate statement, Public Prosecutor Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah al-Muajab said he respected freedom of opinion but asserted his office’s power to pursue cases against those who promote hatred or sectarianism, or mislead public opinion.
“Misleading public opinion” becomes a much vaguer complaint when the government defines what the public’s opinion should be and enforces it with dissent-crushing laws. There’s no church/state separation at play either, so religious leaders are pretty much political leaders, and “misleading public opinion” could be nothing more than a disagreement over interpretations of a religious text. In most countries, the worst that might happen is a ruined Thanksgiving dinner. Over there, it’s jail time and a possible beating.
In an absurd twist, Saudi Arabia will host 2020’s G20 summit — an annual gathering of world leaders, most of which hail from a freer world. Because of this, some leaders will be hesitant to condemn the Saudi kingdom for its continued oppression of speech. If things don’t change tremendously over the next few years, participating in the G20 summit will amount to tacit approval of the Saudi government’s abuses and will legitimize ongoing censorship.