On Monday Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that so far this year Saudi Arabia has increased arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of dissident authors and human rights advocates.
In January, a Saudi court sentenced two prominent activists to long jail terms, accusing them of being in contact with international media and human rights organizations. The authorities jailed two others, one of whom remains in detention while under investigation, HRW reported.
Ahmed Benchemsi, Advocacy and Communications Director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, told Radio Sputnik that since 2011 at least 20 prominent activists and dissidents have been convicted by Saudi courts.
The defendants were convicted of "ludicrous" offenses like participating in protests or communicating with media and human rights organizations, and received prison sentences of between ten and 15 years.
"Pretty much all of them were tried in a special court, it's called the 'specialized criminal court,' and that is Saudi Arabia's terrorism tribunal. So, why would they try peaceful dissidents for communicating with media or human rights organizations in terrorism tribunals? This is a question that should be asked of the Saudi authorities," Benchemsi said.
According to research from Canada-based Citizen Lab, the governments of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have acquired intrusion software that allowed them to hack into laptops and mobile devices in order to gather evidence about dissident activity.
Rather than fabricating charges against dissidents, the Saudi authorities openly make charges against them such as, "communicating with the media," or "passing on information to human rights organizations," or "using social media to spread false information about the country."
"They're not even trying to hide the fact that these are political trials. These trials are clearly intended to shut down the peaceful activism in the country," Benchemsi said.
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