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Saudi Arabia: 'ludicrous' death sentence against retired teacher for tweets must be quashed

Mohammad al-Ghamdi was convicted and sentenced to death on 9 July © Private

Mohammad bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, 54, was accused of ‘using his accounts on Twitter and YouTube to follow and promote individuals who seek to destabilise public order’

Al-Ghamdi’s brother, resident in the UK, believes sentence is ‘retaliation’ against him for his political opposition to Saudi government

‘No amount of money can whitewash just how repressive the country has become’ - Philip Luther 

The Saudi Arabian authorities must quash a “ludicrous” death sentence against 54-year-old retired teacher Mohammad bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, who has been convicted by the country’s notorious Specialised Criminal Court solely for his peaceful activity on Twitter and YouTube.

Al-Ghamdi was convicted and sentenced to death on 9 July, and his brother - Dr Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, an Islamic scholar and government critic living in self-imposed exile in the UK - believes the death sentence is an act of reprisal against him by the Saudi authorities for his political activism while based in the UK.

Dr Saeed al-Ghamdi told Amnesty: 

“The Saudi authorities asked me several times to return to Saudi Arabia, but I refused to do so. It is very probable that this death sentence against my brother is in retaliation for my activity. Otherwise, his charges wouldn’t have carried such a severe penalty.”

Dr Saeed also said that, during questioning, that interrogators asked his brother about his political opinions and his views on other detained Saudi nationals, including religious clerics Salman al-Awda and Awad al-Qarni, both of whom were detained in 2017 and face the death penalty for their political views.  

Amnesty has reviewed the charge sheet against al-Ghamdi, which shows he was convicted under articles 30, 34, 43 and 44 of the country’s counterterrorism law. His purported offences include “renouncing allegiance to the guardians of the state”, “supporting a terrorist ideology and a terrorist entity (the Muslim Brotherhood)”, “using his accounts on Twitter and YouTube to follow and promote individuals who seek to destabilise public order”, and “sympathising with individuals detained on terrorism-related charges”. The charges specifically cite several of al-Ghamdi’s tweets, including posts criticising the Saudi king, the crown prince and the country’s foreign policy. He also called for the release of jailed religious clerics and complained of increased prices. He was not accused of any violent crimes. 

According to Dr Saeed, his brother was originally arrested on 11 June 2022 by state security forces as he sat with his wife and children in front of their house in the al-Nawwariyyah district in Mecca. Al-Ghamdi was kept in solitary confinement in Dhahban prison near Jeddah for four months, during which he was not allowed to contact his family or a lawyer. According to Dr Saeed, al-Ghamdi was only allowed contact his family when he was moved to al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh, more than four months after his arrest. 

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:

“The death sentence against Mohammad bin Nasser al-Ghamdi - who has a total of just ten followers on both of his anonymous Twitter accounts and is accused of nothing other than expressing his opinions on social media - is ludicrous.

“The sentence appears to be a vindictive punishment designed not only to target him, but also to act as a reprisal for the actions of at least one other family member who has been more politically outspoken.

“The Saudi authorities have spent billions of dollars trying to rehabilitate their image, but no amount of money can whitewash just how repressive the country has become.”

Escalating crackdown under Mohammed bin Salman

Over the past two years, Amnesty has documented an escalating crackdown in Saudi Arabia against people using the internet to voice their opinions. Last year alone, Amnesty documented the cases of 15 people sentenced to terms of imprisonment of between ten and 45 years for their peaceful online activities, including the longest jail sentence believed to have ever been imposed on a Saudi woman for peaceful online expression. In many of these cases, the Specialised Criminal Court has used vague provisions under the anti-cybercrime and counterterrorism laws which equate peaceful expression and online activity with “terrorism”. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top executioners. In 2022, it executed 196 people, the highest annual number of executions that Amnesty has recorded in the country during the past 30 years. This was three times higher than the number of executions in 2021 and at least seven times higher than in 2020. 

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