West News Wire: A rights organisation reports that Saudi Arabia has sentenced a secondary schoolgirl to 18 years in prison and a travel ban after accusing her of aiding political detainees in her posts on X (formerly Twitter). 

The Saudi Specialised Criminal Court sentenced 18-year-old Manal al-Gafiri in August, according to information released on Friday by the rights advocacy group ALQST, which tracks violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia. 

She was only 17 years old when she was detained, ALQST continued. 

The most recent decision comes as the Saudi judiciary, which is effectively ruled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has handed out a number of harsh sentences in response to allegations of online activism and the use of social media to criticise Riyadh. 

Last month, Mohammed al-Ghamdi, a retired Saudi teacher, was given the death penalty for comments made on Twitter and YouTube. 

Evading responsibility for the hardline Saudi court rulings and the regime’s stringent repression of dissent and free speech, the Saudi crown prince on Wednesday confirmed al-Ghamdi’s death penalty and blamed it on “bad laws” that he claimed he cannot change. 

“We are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws, and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because… that’s against the rule of law.” 

The list of activists given prison sentences over cyberactivism can go on. 

Leeds University doctoral candidate Salma al-Shehab also received a 34-year jail sentence over her tweets in support of women’s right to drive last year. 

However, Saudi human rights advocates and attorneys refuted the crown prince’s claims and asserted that the crackdown on social media users was tied to his rise to power and the establishment of new judicial bodies, which later oversaw a crackdown on his detractors. 

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“He is able, with one word or the stroke of a pen, in seconds, to change the laws if he wants,” Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi attorney and legal consultant with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, stated. 

Rights organisations also said that the 2017 reorganisation of the Saudi security system had dramatically made it possible to restrict the country’s opposition voices, especially those of activists and women’s rights advocates. 

“These violations are new under its Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, and it’s ridiculous that he is blaming this on the prosecution when he and senior Saudi authorities wield so much power over the prosecution services and the political apparatus more broadly,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch, using a common term for the prince. 

Since Crown Prince assumed the role of de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in 2017, the country has increased its arrests of activists, bloggers, academics, and other people seen as political rivals, exhibiting almost zero tolerance for dissent despite international criticism of the crackdown. 

As long as freedoms of expression, association, and belief are denied, Muslims have been persecuted, activists for women’s rights have been imprisoned, and executions of Muslim academics and activists have taken place. 

Riyadh has also rewritten its anti-terrorism laws to specifically target activism over the past few years.


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