[JURIST] A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system on the social networking website Twitter [website] by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. The Saudi Press Agency [official website] reported [SPA report] that the lawyers were each convicted of different crimes, including using the social media outlet to propagate against the Saudi judiciary, criticize Islamic Sharia law and interfere in the independence of the judiciary. The lawyers are also banned [AFP report] from using social media and traveling. The court also warned other social media users that they could face similar punishment for similar offenses and that they were being monitored.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system has drawn international criticism in recent years, especially with regard to its high number of executions. Last month, two experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] urged Saudi Arabia to implement [JURIST report] an immediate moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] following an increase in executions, with a significant number of the executions completed by beheading. In July then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, expressed deep concern [JURIST report] over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In February JURIST Guest Columnist Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] argued [JURIST op-ed] that a new Saudi Arabian terrorism law was a vague, catch-all document that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way. Also in February Amnesty International criticized [JURIST report] the Saudi Arabian counterterrorism law on the basis that the law will deepen existing patterns of human rights violations and will be used to crack down on peaceful dissent.