On Friday, UN experts issued a formal appeal to Saudi Arabia, urging the revocation of the death sentence imposed on Mohammad Al Ghamdi, who stands accused of engaging in social media dissent. Saudi security services took Ghamdi into custody on June 11, facing a series of criminal allegations related to his social media commentary. These charges encompassed accusations of “betrayal of religion, country, and leadership,” “propagation of false information with the intent to disrupt public order and undermine security,” and “endorsement of terrorist ideologies and affiliation with a terrorist group.”
Expressing concern, the UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, have strongly criticized the severity of the penalties imposed on Ghamdi. They argue that these punitive measures blatantly contravene established international legal norms and “human rights standards.”
On July 10, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court convicted Ghamdi and sentenced him to death. The court defended this stern judgment by asserting that Ghamdi had committed what they considered a “heinous crime” that had purportedly attracted global attention via a prominent media platform. However, UN human rights experts have emphasized that the mere act of expressing critical viewpoints on the internet does not meet the threshold set by international law for imposing the death penalty. Furthermore, they have firmly stated that the alleged offences do not unequivocally fall into the “most serious” crimes category.
There has been an escalating crackdown in Saudi Arabia, targeting individuals who have utilized social media and the internet to express their opinions. In 2022 alone, Amnesty International documented 15 cases in which individuals received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 45 years solely due to their engagement in peaceful online activities. Among these instances was the imprisonment of a Saudi woman, who received the longest sentence ever recorded for peaceful online expression.