Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Reprieve) – The Saudi Arabian Government has warned that people could face execution for tweeting “rumours,” according to the state-backed Makkah Newspaper.
In an article published online on October 3rd, the paper said that a “judicial source” at the country’s Ministry of Justice had “confirmed to Makkah Online that the death penalty is the harshest of the penalties that can be enacted upon those who spread rumours which create civil discord, via social media platforms like Twitter.”
Although the report does not use a named source, the nature of state-censorship in the Kingdom makes it unlikely that such claims would be made without the consent of the authorities. In addition, the Makkah Newspaper appears to enjoy government support – according to local news reports, it was launched last year by the Governor of Mecca, in the presence of the Minister for Culture and Information.
The report, translated by human rights charity Reprieve, appears to be the first time that the Saudi authorities have specifically threatened to use the death penalty for ‘offences’ committed on social media such as Twitter.
It comes in the wake of the news that Saudi Arabia plans to execute two people arrested as children: Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was arrested aged 17 for alleged involvement in anti-Government protests and faces beheading and ‘crucifixion’; and Dawoud al-Marhoon, who was arrested aged 17, also following protests, and faces beheading. Both have had their final appeals rejected and could face execution at any time.
The UK Government has faced criticism over a bid to provide services to the Saudi prison system – which will be responsible for Ali’s and Dawoud’s executions. Despite calls from Members of Parliament and NGOs to drop the bid, it has continued to pursue it.
Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at international human rights charity Reprieve said: “Two weeks ago we heard of the Saudi government’s plans to ‘crucify’ Ali al Nimr for attending a protest when he was 17; now it appears they’re threatening social media users with the death penalty. The Kingdom is executing people at double the rate of last year, with many of those facing the swordsman’s blade sentenced to death for drug offences, attending protests or exercising their right to free speech. It is unthinkable that people could face a death sentence for a simple tweet, yet so far, neither the UK nor the US – both key allies of Saudi Arabia – have taken a strong line against this appalling behaviour. Instead, the British Government is bidding to supply services to Saudi prison authorities – those who will be responsible for carrying out the execution of Ali and scores of others like him.”