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Sun 27 Mar 2016 02:23 PM

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Saudi journalist 'jailed for five years' for offensive tweets

Saudi journalist Alaa Brinjii was found to have insulted the rulers, ridiculing Islamic religious figures and accusing security officers of killing protesters

Saudi journalist 'jailed for five years' for offensive tweets
Image for illustrative purpose only. (Getty Images)

A Saudi Arabian journalist has been sentenced to five years in prison for a series of tweets ruled to be offensive to the kingdom’s rulers.

Alaa Brinjii was found guilty on March 24 of a string of charges that included “insulting the rulers”, “inciting public opinion”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures” and “accusing security officers of killing protesters in Awamiyya [Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia], Amnesty International said on Sunday.

The human rights group said in a statement that Brinjii was the “latest victim of [the kingdom’s] ruthless crackdown on peaceful dissent”.

As well as being fined and imprisoned, authorities imposed an eight-year travel ban on Brinjii and fined him SR50,000 ($13,300).

Amnesty said his sentence was a “clear violation” of international law and the latest demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities’ “deep-seated intolerance” of the right to peaceful expression.

“The sentencing of Alaa Brinji to a five-year prison term is utterly shameful. He is the latest victim of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless crackdown on peaceful dissent, where the aim appears to be to completely wipe out any and all voices of criticism,” said James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) programme.

“Putting someone behind bars for peacefully exercising his legitimate right to freedom of expression, and defending the rights of others to do so, is a complete distortion of the very notion of justice.

“The authorities must ensure his conviction is quashed and release him immediately and unconditionally.”

Brinji worked for Saudi Arabian newspapers Al Bilad, Okaz and Al Sharq, according to Amnesty.

He was arrested on 12 May 2014 and has been detained since. He was initially held incommunicado in solitary confinement and has not been allowed access to a lawyer, Amnesty claimed. His Twitter account has been disabled.

Brinjii was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism court, known as the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), on a range of charges related to posts on social media website Twitter, in which he reportedly defended women’s right to drive cars – banned under Saudi Arabian law – and human rights activists more generally.

Amnesty added that his list of offences originally included “apostasy” (defection or revolt) which in Saudi Arabia carries the death penalty, but he was not convicted of this due to a lack of evidence

“Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for its gross and systematic violations of human rights,” said James Lynch.