6 June 2024

Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death a government critic who denounced alleged corruption and human rights abuses on social media, his brother and others familiar with the case told AFP on Monday.

The judgement was handed down against Mohammed al-Ghamdi in July by the Specialised Criminal Court, which was established in 2008 to try terrorism cases.

The charges include conspiracy against the Saudi leadership, undermining state institutions and supporting terrorist ideology, sources briefed on the details said.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Human rights activists said the case highlights an intense crackdown on criticism published on social media, even via accounts that have few followers.

Saeed al-Ghamdi, Mohammed’s brother and an activist living in exile outside Saudi Arabia, said the case against Mohammed was at least partly built on posts on X, formerly Twitter, criticising the government and expressing support for “prisoners of conscience” like the jailed religious clerics Salman al-Awda and Awad al-Qarni.

Mohammed al-Ghamdi’s account on X had only nine followers, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

“Saudi courts are escalating their repression and unveiling publicly their empty promises of reform,” said Lina al-Hathloul, head of monitoring and communication for the rights group ALQST.

“How can the world believe the country is reforming when a citizen is going to have his head cut off over tweets on an anonymous account with less than 10 followers?”

Saudi Arabia draws frequent criticism for its prolific use of the death penalty, executing 147 people last year, according to an AFP tally. There have been 94 executions so far this year.

State media reports don’t specify the mode of execution but beheadings have been common in the past.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Saudi Arabia has been pursuing an ambitious reform agenda known as Vision 2030 intended to transform the formerly closed-off kingdom into a global tourism and business destination.

However Saudi authorities continue to take heat for the country’s rights record, spurring wide condemnation last year for decades-long prison sentences handed down to two women for social media posts critical of the government.

The political climate “is polluted with repression, terror, and political arrests just for expressing an opinion, even with tweets or liking tweets criticising the situation,” Saeed al-Ghamdi said.

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© Agence France-Presse