Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] expressed concern [press release] Friday over the conviction of journalist Alaa Brinji by the Saudi Arabian Specialized Criminal Court. Alaa Brinji has been in detention since May 2014 and has not been allowed access to a lawyer. He was convicted on Thursday on charges of insulting the rulers of the country, inciting public opinion, accusing security officers of killing protestors in Awamiyya, ridiculing Islamic religious figures and violating Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. All of the charges are based on tweets by Alaa Brinji expressing opposition views. Some of of the tweets exhibited support for women’s rights, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. The sentence entails five years in prison, an eight-year travel ban, and a heavy fine. The court also ordered that his Twitter account be closed. In its press release, AI called Alaa Brinji “a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing his views.” AI has called for his release, and urged Saudi Arabia to take accountability for “its gross and systematic violations of human rights.”
Saudi Arabia’s justice system has drawn international criticism for alleged human rights abuses in recent months. Last month a court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes [JURIST report] for expressing atheist sentiments in recent social media posts. In January 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. That same 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.