Retired Saudi Arabian Teacher Receives Death Sentence Over Critical Tweets

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Authorities in Saudi Arabia sentenced a retired teacher to death after he posted a series of critical tweets pointing out corruption and human rights violations within the country, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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,” HRW reported Aug. 29, citing court documents. The charges fall under article 30 of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism law.

Charging court documents cite several tweets by al-Ghamdi as evidence in which he criticized the Saudi royal family and called for the release of Salman al-Awda, a well-known cleric who is facing the death penalty over political statements and his associations with other famous Islamic scholars who are also in prison, the outlet reported. HRW found al-Ghamdi possessed two Twitter accounts with a total of 10 followers between them. Both accounts combined had fewer than 1,000 tweets and were mainly comprised of retweets of prominent critics of the Saudi Arabian government. (RELATED: Saudi Arabia Denies Reports Of Human Rights Abuses)

“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,” Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW, Joey Shea, said in the organization’s report. “Saudi authorities have escalated their campaign against all dissent to mind-boggling levels and should reject this travesty of justice.”

Al-Ghamdi’s brother Saeed, a critic of the Saudi Arabian government who lives in exile in the United Kingdom, believes his brother’s sentencing was due to Saudi authorities’ failed efforts to coerce him back to the country. “Note that the procedures that were followed with him suggest that this false ruling aims to spite me personally after failed attempts by the investigations to return me to the country,” Saeed tweeted Aug. 24, according to a translation.

The country has recently witnessed an “escalating crackdown” on free speech, Lina al-Hathloul, sister of released Saudi Arabian political prisoner Loujain al-Hathloul and head of human rights watch group ALQST, observed. “They are sending a clear and sinister message – that nobody is safe, and even a tweet can get you killed,” she said, according to CNN.