Two women were sentenced by Saudi court in Jeddah to 10 days in prison and 20 lashes each, over using bad language while arguing with each other on WhatsApp. The messages were ruled to contain ‘impermissible expressions’. The women were warned by court that they would face worse punishment if they repeat their use of bad language.
The case was brought to court two months after the 19-year-old Saudi blogger ‘Abu Sin’ (‘the toothless one’) was taken into custody over flirting online with American teen blogger Christina Crockett.
On the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net report for the year 2016, Saudi Arabia is marked as ‘Not Free’. Social media apps are being blocked, political and social content is being censored and bloggers are being arrested. The state’s press freedom is also marked as not free.
Starting in January 2016, Saudi authorities throttled encrypted communication app Telegram. The Freedom House points out a few of the notable cases from recent years of activists who were sentenced to prison for online advocacy against human rights violations:
- Prof. Abdulkareem al-Khadar – detained on April 2013 and charged for uploading statements and video lectures criticizing the government. Sentenced to 10 years in prison and a subsequent 10-year travel ban.
- Abdelrahman al-Hamid – the co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) was detained in October 2015 and convicted by Specialized Criminal Court of ‘inciting public opinion through Twitter, demanding a constitutional monarchy, and storing illegal materials’. Sentenced to 9 years in prison and a subsequent 9-year travel ban.
- Abdulaziz al-Sinedi – sentenced on October 2015 to 8 years in prison and a subsequent 8-year travel ban for ‘inciting public opinion, questioning the independence of the judiciary, and describing Saudi Arabia as a police state’.
Saudi Arabia is still holding the blogger Raif Badawi behind bars for establishing an online platform for public discourse. Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for supporting freedom of expression in the state.