Saudi academic sentenced to death over social media use 

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A prominent Saudi Arabian law professor has been handed a death sentence over social media usage. The pro-reform cleric is accused of using such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram to disseminate anti-government news, reported The Guardian today.

The 65-year-old was arrested in September 2017 when then-newly appointed Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) oversaw a crackdown against dissent, nominally part of an anti-corruption drive. Prior to his arrest, Qarni had 2 million followers on Twitter.

Qarni’s son, Nasser who fled the kingdom last year and resides in Britain where he is seeking asylum has shared the details of his father’s charges with the newspaper. In October, he described the violent circumstances surrounding his father’s arrest by armed police in civilian clothes.

“More than 100 men armed with machine guns and pistols. They were surrounding the house. We were forcibly prevented from entering the house,” he said. “It was like a battlefield.”

READ: Saudi Arabia infiltrated Wikipedia to control editorial content, NGOs say

Charges against Qarni include his use of social media, specifically a Twitter account under his own name, to express his opinions. He is also accused of participating in a WhatsApp group chat and creating a Telegram account, as well as of praising the Muslim Brotherhood in videos. It is worth noting that he is facing the death penalty for these charges.

The court documents shared by Nasser also show that the criminalisation of social media usage has increased since MBS became de facto ruler.

Last year Salma Al-Shehab, a PhD student and mother of two from Leeds, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account and following and retweeting dissidents and activists. Another woman, Noura Al-Qahtani, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for using Twitter.

Jeed Basyouni, the head of Middle East and North African advocacy at the human rights group, Reprieve, said Qarni’s case is part of a trend in which scholars and academics face the death penalty for tweeting and expressing their views.

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