Saudi Arabia cracking down on online dissent with surge of detentions in April

Saudi Arabia cracking down on online dissent with surge of detentions in April
2 min read
13 May, 2021
April saw more prisoners of conscience jailed in Saudi Arabia than the three previous months combined.
Saudi Arabia has continued its crackdown on activists [Getty]
Saudi Arabia jailed more activists in April than at any point this year, a leading human rights group claimed on Thursday.

Grant Liberty found that Riyadh handed out twice as many harsh sentences to government critics in April than in the first three months of 2021 combined.

The group has linked the US failure to hold leading Saudi figures accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the rise in harsh prison sentences meted out to Saudi prisoners of conscience.

"News from the Saudi legal system can be notoriously slow, but at least eight individuals suffered stiff sentences in April alone - twice as many as the first three months of the year combined," Grant Liberty told The Guardian.

It follows a US intelligence report in February that claimed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to kill or capture Khashoggi.

Washington did not directly sanction the crown prince but denied visas for 76 other Saudis "believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing".

Grant Liberty claims the US' decision not to sanction Prince Mohammed has contributed to the up-tick in detentions of activists in Saudi Arabia.

"The international community must demonstrate that the only way the kingdom can improve its standing is through genuine reform," Lucy Rae from Grant Liberty told The Guardian.

"That means we need the tough action [presidential] candidate Biden talked about, not the weakness President Biden has so far shown."

Among those who were jailed in April were a number of social media critics.

Read more: Saudi Arabia's produce ban sends Lebanon a political message

Al-Sadhan was handed a 20-year jail sentence and 20-year travel ban for allegedly running a parody social media account.

Abdulaziz Alaoudh Al-Odah was sentenced to five years in jail for social media activity. 

Despite criticism of the failure to act against MbS, the US has insisted that it is committed to promoting human rights in Saudi Arabia. 

"The United States' commitment to democratic values and human rights is a priority, especially with our partners. We continue to elevate respect for human rights in our bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia. As we have repeatedly made clear, peaceful activism to promote human rights is not a crime," said a spokesperson for the US Department of State.

Saudi Arabia released women's rights activists Loujain Al-Hathloul earlier this year after 1001-day behind bars.

She remains subject to a travel ban and was not cleared of her charges, while her family insist her innocence.

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