A Saudi court has imposed the death penalty on Mohammed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi for his online posts on X (formerly Twitter) and his activities on YouTube. This decision follows international criticism over the kingdom’s escalating suppression of free expression.
Al-Ghamdi’s sentence is part of an ongoing effort by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to suppress any form of defiance as he vigorously pursues ambitious infrastructure projects and diplomatic agreements to boost his global profile.
Lina Alhathloul, the head of monitoring and advocacy at the London-based group ALQST, commented on the situation, saying, “Al-Ghamdi’s death sentence over tweets is extremely horrific but stands in line with the Saudi authorities’ escalating crackdown. Lengthy prison sentences issued for free speech, such as 27 years against Salma al-Shehab, have not received sufficient outcry, and the authorities have taken this as a green light to double down on their repression. They are sending a clear and sinister message — that nobody is safe and even a tweet can kill you.”
Saudi officials have yet to provide a response to requests for comments regarding the verdict issued by Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, initially established to handle terrorism-related cases but now handling charges against activists as well.
According to court documents, al-Ghamdi faced charges including “betraying his religion,” “disturbing the security of society,” “conspiring against the government,” and “impugning the kingdom and the crown prince,” all related to his online activities, including sharing posts critical of the government.
Saudi Arabia’s Execution Record
Although officials did not specify why al-Ghamdi was singled out, his brother, Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, is a prominent critic of the Saudi government residing in the United Kingdom. “This false ruling aims to spite me personally after failed attempts by the investigators to have me return to the country,” the brother tweeted last Thursday, suggesting a possible connection to his activism abroad.
Critics have noted that Saudi Arabia has previously employed the tactic of arresting family members to pressure dissidents living abroad into returning to the kingdom.
International human rights organizations swiftly condemned the verdict. Joey Shea, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, remarked, “Repression in Saudi Arabia has reached a terrifying new stage when a court can hand down the death penalty for nothing more than peaceful tweets.”
As reported by Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia ranks among the world’s top executioners, trailing only China and Iran in 2022. Last year, the kingdom executed 196 individuals, marking the highest number recorded by Amnesty in three decades. In a single day in March, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people, constituting the largest mass execution in the country’s modern history.
While Saudi Arabia has frequently employed severe measures to stifle dissent, al-Ghamdi’s case appears to be the first in the ongoing crackdown to result in the death penalty for online activities, further fueling concerns about the state of free expression and human rights in the kingdom.