Saudis imprisoned for allegedly inciting protests via Facebook

Seven men are accused of breaking Saudi Arabia's "Anti-Cyber Crime Law" by taking to the social network to encourage protests and illegal gatherings.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

The Saudi Arabian government has sentenced seven men to prison on charges they used Facebook to incite protests and encourage illegal gathering, according to Human Rights Watch. Their sentences range from five to 10 years.

"Sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there's no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks," Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement.

The seven men were originally arrested in September 2011 and have been in jail ever since. When they were finally put on trial in April, a Specialized Criminal Court accused them of joining certain Facebook pages to "incite protests, illegal gathering, and breaking allegiance with the king" and of "assisting and encouraging these calls and corresponding with the [Facebook pages'] followers and concealing them," according to Human Rights Watch.

All of the accused were convicted of breaking a Saudi law titled the "Anti-Cyber Crime Law," which deems it illegal to produce, send, or store material in an information network that could "harm public order," according to Human Rights Watch. The seven men reportedly admitted to using certain activist Facebook pages, but they also said they didn't realize it was illegal.

Saudi Arabia is known for having a low tolerance for online activity. In 2010, the government reportedly blocked Facebook because it didn't conform to the country's conservative values. And, last year, well-known blogger Hamza Kashgari was detained for writing an imaginary conversation with the Prophet Mohammad on Twitter.

Most recently, in March, the government threatened to block several popular Internet chat, call, and messaging services -- including Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber. The government said that these services weren't in line with the country's regulatory requirements.