In 2007, the Saudi Council of Ministers, headed by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, approved the system for combating information crimes, which ostensibly aims to combat cybercrimes by specifying crimes and the penalties prescribed for each of them.
New dark ages
Since then, freedom of opinion and expression in Saudi began to enter a dark tunnel, as the articles of this law were invoked to silence dissenting voices.
The government manipulates words to incriminate the activities of these opponents using terms like: destabilizing the country, insulting the king and so on.
With Muhammad bin Salman assuming the mandate of the Covenant, this dark tunnel became darker, as he launched unprecedented arbitrary arrest campaigns, under these articles, against activists, bloggers, opponents, even his cousins, famous businessmen and officials while designated the suitable crime for each one according to his job.
This law was issued to protect citizens from the evils of some Web users who worked on spreading scandals and harm citizens.
According to the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the law targets anyone who is involved in “illegally entering a website or changing the designs of this site, cancelling it, destroying it, modifying it, occupy its address, or causing harm to private lives through the misuse of mobile phones equipped with a camera or the like with the intention of defaming others and harming them through the means of various information technologies.
Although the authorities cannot accused be of not fulfilling the required role in this regard, the law is being misused, as it provides detention “for a period not exceeding ten years and a fine not exceeding five million riyals or one of them for each person who creates or publishes a website for terrorist organizations on the internet or a computer device to facilitate contact with the leaders of those organizations, or to promote their ideas, or to spread means of manufacturing explosives”.
In theory, imposing a law criminalizing these practices and fighting them is something that should be celebrated, but in reality “Are all those who detained accused of creating a website for terrorist organization, etc?
Those detainees are arrested for publishing a tweet criticizing some practice of the system, or after blogging about their wishes to enact a law or issue a decision that prohibits an order and approves another, which are legitimate rights and the real crime is depriving citizens of their rights.
Loujain Al-Hathloul, is detained for demanding the right of women to drive cars, and the preacher Sheikh Salman Al-Ouda, imprisoned for posting a tweet in which he hinted his desire for reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and another imprisoned for showing solidarity with another detainee. Some are released after intimidation, and others are still subject to humiliation for using their right to peacefully express their opinion.
These articles neglect the conditions and age of detainee, as there are many minors under 18 arrested under the pretext of committing crimes that violate the provisions of the law, and if it is true, why doesn’t the government try to correct his ideas to preserve his mental health and psychology.
Journalists’ first enemy
The regime gave itself the right to delete visual, written and audio contents of journalists, preachers and thinkers, on the pretext that they pose a threat to the general security of the country and destabilize it. These in fact are loose terms that may be interpreted differently according to the judiciary, which leaves citizens in fear of expressing their ideas or even using social media.
Films have also been subject to this law. In 2019, the Saudi authorities objected against the context of the Netflix “Patriot Act” program, a well-known comedy program in the US presented by a Muslim of Indian origin, who criticized the political life in some countries, including Saudi Arabia, following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The authorities considered this comedy a threat to the security of the country, offensive to the regime and the “guardian”, yet it never took action to prevent contents contrary to the customs and values of society such as homosexuality and sexual scenes.
This law was supposed to fight terrorists and criminals who violate the sanctities of others, but the reality is that it has become a weapon that the regime uses in the face of journalists, dissidents and human rights defenders, although blogging and tweeting are the most peaceful ways to express an opinion.
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