x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Seven Saudis jailed for up to a decade for protest call on Facebook

Facebook messages calling for anti-government protests lead to sentences of five to 10 years.

Saudi Arabia has sentenced seven people to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years for posting messages on Facebook calling for anti-government protests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.

The New York-based group urged EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and other European officials who yesterday were meeting in Bahrain with Gulf counterparts, including Saudi Arabia, to condemn the convictions.

The people sentenced were from Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, which has seen occasional protests by minority Shiites over the past two years against alleged discrimination and negligence, which the Riyadh government denies.

A Saudi-based human rights campaigner said those convicted were all Shiites from Al Ahsa governorate who had set up Facebook pages to urge people to stage demonstrations. "The sectarian situation in the region made the sentences tough and unreasonable," he said.

HRW said the men were held in September 2011 and had spent a year and a half in prison before being tried by a special tribunal set up in 2008 to handle terrorism-related cases.

The court did not charge the men with directly participating in protests, HRW said, rather with inciting "protests, illegal gathering, and breaking allegiance with the king".