Saudi Man Sentenced to Death for Tweets Criticizing Government
In a shocking turn of events, Muhammad al-Ghamdi, a 54-year-old retired teacher, has been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for posting tweets that criticized the Saudi government.
The sentencing has drawn international attention and condemnation, raising concerns about the state of free speech and human rights in the country.
Details of the Charges Against Muhammad al-Ghamdi
Al-Ghamdi was convicted on July 10 under Article 30 of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism law. The charges against him included "describing the King or the Crown Prince in a way that undermines religion or justice," "supporting a terrorist ideology," "communication with a terrorist entity," and "publishing false news with the intention of executing a terrorist crime."
"Muhammad al-Ghamdi, 54, was convicted and sentenced July 10 for 'describing the King or the Crown Prince in a way that undermines religion or justice,' for 'supporting a terrorist ideology,' for 'communication with a terrorist entity' and for publishing false news 'with the intention of executing a terrorist crime,' Human Rights Watch reported Aug. 29, citing court documents."
The tweets in question called for the release of Salman al-Awda, a cleric facing the death penalty, and criticized the Saudi royal family. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), al-Ghamdi had two Twitter accounts with a total of 10 followers and fewer than 1,000 tweets, mainly retweets of critics of the Saudi government.
"Repression in Saudi Arabia has reached a terrifying new stage when a court can hand down the death penalty for nothing more than peaceful tweets," said Joey Shea, a Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW.
Family Believes Sentencing is Retaliation
Al-Ghamdi's brother, Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a well-known Saudi Islamic scholar and government critic, is currently in self-imposed exile in the UK. Saeed believes that the harsh sentence against his brother is a form of retaliation for his own activities and refusal to return to Saudi Arabia.
"The Saudi authorities asked me several times to return to Saudi Arabia, but I refused to do so. It is very probable that this death sentence against my brother is in retaliation for my activity. Otherwise, his charges wouldn’t have carried such a severe penalty."
Escalating Crackdown on Free Speech
Human rights organizations have noted an "escalating crackdown" on free speech in Saudi Arabia. According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, at least 92 people have been executed in the country this year. In 2022, the UK-based human rights organization ALQST recorded 148 executions, more than double the number in 2021.
"The death sentence is part of an 'escalating crackdown' on free speech and serves as a 'clear and sinister message' that even a tweet can result in severe consequences," said Lina Alhathloul, ALQST head of monitoring and advocacy.
CNN reached out to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior for comments but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Why People Care About This Story
This case has struck a nerve globally because it highlights the extreme measures that some governments will take to suppress dissent. The sentencing of Muhammad al-Ghamdi for tweets criticizing the government has raised alarms about the state of free speech and human rights in Saudi Arabia, and by extension, other countries where similar laws and penalties exist.
The international community is watching closely, as this case could set a dangerous precedent. It serves as a chilling reminder that the freedom to express one's opinions, a right many take for granted, can be a life-or-death matter in some parts of the world.
Moreover, the case has implications for family members of activists and critics who live abroad. The sentencing of al-Ghamdi could be seen as a warning to those who dare to speak out against their government, even from the safety of another country.
Finally, the increasing number of executions in Saudi Arabia, as reported by human rights organizations, adds another layer of concern. It raises questions about the fairness of the judicial system and the extreme penalties for what many would consider to be basic human rights.
Lessons to Learn from This Tragedy
1. Be Aware of Local Laws: Especially in countries with strict laws against free speech, it's crucial to be aware of what you can and cannot say, even online.
2. Exercise Caution on Social Media: This case shows that even tweets can have severe consequences. Always think before you post, particularly if you're in a country with restrictive laws.
3. Family Members Are Not Immune: The family of activists or critics may also face repercussions, as seen in this case.
4. Understand the Risks: If you're an activist or critic, understand that your actions could have severe consequences, not just for you but also for your family.
It's important to note that no matter what precautions are taken, crime can happen to anyone, and we should never blame the victim for the actions of others.