[JURIST] A Saudi Arabian court on Saturday sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheist sentiments in recent social media posts. The religious police of Saudi Arabia, who are in charge of monitoring social media in the country, found [AP report] more than 600 tweets that contained atheist rhetoric. Some tweets denied that God exists, while others more specifically criticized parts of the Quran and other aspects of the Islamic religion. The 28-year-old man has openly admitted to being an atheist. He proclaimed that he has the right to these beliefs and refused to repent. The court, in addition to the sentence, fined him 20,000 riyals (USD $5,300).
Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism for alleged human rights abuses in recent months. Last month a well-known female human rights activist, Samar Badawi, was detained [JURIST report] and interviewed by Saudi prosecutors, allegedly for her involvement in managing a Twitter account that campaigned for the release of her former husband, a Saudi lawyer who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for activism. Also last month Saudi Arabian officials announced that the government executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges [JURIST report], including al Qaeda detainees and a prominent Shiite cleric who rallied protesters against the government. In November a Saudi Arabia court sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death [JURIST report] for apostasy; or abandoning his Muslim faith. Also, in November Amnesty International (AI) reported that Saudi Arabia has executed a record 151 people in 2015 [JURIST report], the highest number since 1995. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90. AI said that almost half of all the executions carried out in 2015 were for offenses that are not considered "most serious crimes" under the international human rights laws. Saudi Arabia also reportedly continues to impose the death sentence on individuals under the age of 18, violating child human rights laws.