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Saudi Arabia: Revoke death penalty for social media activity, UN experts urge

15 September 2023

GENEVA (15 September 2023) – Saudi Arabia must immediately revoke the death sentence handed down to Mohammed Al Ghamdi for his tweets and YouTube activities, as the crackdown on freedom of expression in the country continues to escalate, UN experts* said today.

“The mere expression of critical views online cannot meet the threshold under international law for the imposition of the death penalty,” the UN experts said. “Under no circumstances do the alleged crimes constitute the ‘most serious’ crimes.”

Muhammad Al Ghamdi was arrested by the Saudi security services on 11 June 2022 and charged with criminal offences for opinions expressed on social media. The charges included “betrayal of his religion, country and rulers”, “spreading false rumours with intent to disrupt public order and destabilise security” and “supporting terrorist ideology and a terrorist group”.

The Specialised Criminal Court found Al Ghamdi guilty and sentenced him to death on 10 July 2023. The court said Al Ghamdi was being severely punished for “heinous crimes” that were “amplified through a global media platform”.

“It is alarming that Saudi Arabia’s punishments for online expression include the death penalty or prison sentences of several decades under anti-terrorism laws,” the experts said. “These punishments are completely inconsistent with international law and human rights standards,” they said.

They stressed that freedom of expression and opinion were indispensable conditions for a free and democratic society, sustainable development, and the full development of the person.

“The arrest, detention and sentencing to death of Muhammad Al Ghamdi sends a clear and chilling message to all those who wish to express themselves freely in Saudi Arabia,” the experts said.

In view of the irreversibility of the death penalty, the experts urged the judiciary and other institutions in Saudi Arabia to ensure that Muhammad Al Ghamdi’s execution is stayed.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that Mr Al Ghamdi’s mental health has deteriorated since his detention, aggravated by the lack of medical care and the conditions of his detention,” the experts said.

“This sentence, if carried out, would constitute a flagrant violation of international human rights standards and will be considered an arbitrary execution,” they said.

*The experts: Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms.Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinionand expression, Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett(Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mr. Mumba Malila - Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For additional information and media requests please contact the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Gihan Indraguptha ([email protected]) or [email protected].

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts

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