Saudi Arabia: Journalist sentenced to 5 years in prison for tweets 'ridiculing Islamic religious figures'

Alaa Brinji was convicted for tweets he posted in support of Saudi Arabian women's right to drive cars, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience

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The Independent Online

A journalist has been sentenced to five years in a Saudi Arabian prison for "insulting the rulers of the country" and "ridiculing Islamic religious figures".

Alaa Brinji was convicted by Saudi Arabia's counter-terrorism court, known as the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), for tweets he posted in support of Saudi Arabian women's right to drive cars, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

Mr Brinji has also been given an eight-year travel ban and a fine of 50,000 Saudi riyals (around £9,500). The court ordered the closure of his twitter account.

He was arrested on 12 May, 2014, and has been in detention since. He was initially held in solitary confinement and has not been allowed access to a lawyer, according to Amnesty international.

His offences originally included the act of "apostasy," which is considered a serious crime in Saudi Arabia and carries the death penalty, but he was not convicted due to lack of evidence.

James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme, said: “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.

“Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for its gross and systematic violations of human rights.

“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.”

Earlier this month, Saudi writer Mohanna Abdulaziz al-Hubail was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison, followed by a travel ban of equal length.

He was convicted of a series of offences, including "insulting the state and its rulers" and inciting and taking part in demonstrations calling for the release of prisoners of conscience.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia executed the 76th person to be put to death in the country on 24 March.

The rate of executions has dramatically increased since the accession of King Salman in January, 2015.