Saudi Arabia Sentences Man to Death Over Tweets

A Saudi court has handed down a death sentence to Muhammad al-Ghamdi, a 54-year-old retired Saudi teacher, based solely on his online activity, including tweets and YouTube videos he viewed, according to a report by Human Rights Watch

The conviction came from the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism tribunal, on July 10, 2023. The court found al-Ghamdi guilty of multiple criminal offenses solely related to his peaceful expression on social media platforms.

The court relied on evidence from al-Ghamdi’s tweets, retweets, and YouTube activity to sentence him to death. Human Rights Watch condemned the verdict, considering it a disturbing escalation of the Saudi government’s crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful dissent. The organization called for the verdict to be overturned.

Al-Ghamdi was arrested in front of his family on June 11, 2022, and held in solitary confinement for four months. During this period, he had no access to legal representation or communication with his family. He was later transferred to al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. The court questioned him about his online posts, political opinions, and interactions with individuals imprisoned for expressing their views.

The court documents revealed that al-Ghamdi was charged under various articles of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism law, including “describing the King or the Crown Prince in a way that undermines religion or justice,” “supporting a terrorist ideology,” “communication with a terrorist entity,” and “publishing false news with the intention of executing a terrorist crime.”

According to his brother, Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, al-Ghamdi’s “tweets are in an anonymous account that only nine followers follow,” and the false ruling “aims to spite me personally after failed attempts by the investigations to return me to the country.” 

Saeed is a prominent Saudi Islamic scholar and government critic who is currently living in exile in the United Kingdom, and in recent years, Saudi authorities have cracked down on critics and dissidents through their family members.

Second-largest owner of Twitter, supposed land of free speech

Elon Musk, owner of X, the platform formerly known as Twitter and self-titled free speech absolutist, has been quiet about the issue. Saudi’s Kingdom Holding Company (KHC), 95% owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is X’s “second-largest investor.” KHC kept its stake in the company, which was then valued at $1.89 billion, when it was acquired by Musk in October 2022.

Al Waleed initially rejected Musk’s offer to buy the company, stating that the price doesn’t come close “to the intrinsic value of Twitter given its growth prospects.” To which Musk replied by asking

  • 1) “How much of Twitter does the Kingdom own, directly & indirectly?,” and
  • 2) “What are the Kingdom’s views on journalistic freedom of speech?”

Journalistic freedom of speech is a death sentence, apparently.

Information for this story was found via HRW, Al Jazeera, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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