The sentencing of journalist Alaa Brinji to five years in prison, an eight-year travel ban and a fine of 50,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$ 13,300) for a series of tweets, is a clear violation of international law and the latest demonstration of the Saudi Arabian authorities’ deep-seated intolerance of the right to peaceful expression, Amnesty International said today.
He was found guilty on 24 March of a string of charges that included amongst other things, “insulting the rulers”, “inciting public opinion”, and “accusing security officers of killing protestors in Awamiyya” – an area of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.
“The sentencing of Alaa Brinji to a five-year prison term is utterly shameful. He is the latest victim of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless crackdown on peaceful dissent, where the aim appears to be to completely wipe out any and all voices of criticism, said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
“Putting someone behind bars for peacefully exercising his legitimate right to freedom of expression, and defending the rights of others to do so, is a complete distortion of the very notion of justice. The authorities must ensure his conviction is quashed and release him immediately and unconditionally.”
Alaa Brinji is a respected journalist who has worked for the Saudi Arabian newspapers al-Bilad, Okaz and al-Sharq. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing his views.
He was arrested on 12 May 2014 and has been in detention ever since. He was initially held incommunicado in solitary confinement and has not been allowed access to a lawyer.
He was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s notorious counter-terrorism court, known as the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), on a range of charges, including, “insulting the rulers of the country”, “inciting public opinion”, “accusing security officers of killing protestors in Awamiyya”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures” and “violating Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law”. The court also ordered the closure of his twitter account. All of these charges stem from tweets he posted online some of which werein support of Saudi Arabian women’s right to drive cars, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.
His list of “offences” also originally included the act of “apostasy” which is considered a seriouscrime in Saudi Arabia and carries the death penalty but he was not convicted of this due to a lack of evidence.
Since 2014, the SCC has sentenced many activists and dissidents to lengthy prison terms, and even to death, after grossly unfair trials.
Earlier this month Saudi Arabian writer and Islamic scholar Mohanna Abdulaziz al-Hubail was sentenced in absentia by the SCC to six years in prison to be followed by a travel ban of equal length. He was convicted of a number of ‘offences’ including violating Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law by “insulting the state and its rulers” and “being in solidarity with imprisoned members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association” (ACRPA) on Twitter. He was also found guilty of inciting and taking part in demonstrations and calling for the release of prisoners of conscience. The court also ordered the closure of his Twitter account.
“Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for its gross and systematic violations of human rights,” said James Lynch.
“Its international allies, who seek to collaborate on security and intelligence, have to confront the fact that using the pretext of ‘counter-terrorism’, the government’s draconian crackdown has eradicated virtually all forms of peaceful dissent in the country.”