00:29 GMT08 August 2020
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    Saudi Arabia has stepped up arrests and prosecutions of dissidents and human rights advocates this year, and unlike other states in the region Riyadh doesn't even try to hide the political nature of the charges, Ahmed Benchemsi of Human Rights Watch told Radio Sputnik.

    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.

    Benchemsi said the defendants are pushing for human rights, democracy and accountability, "all type of ideas that should be absolutely normal to have in any country that expects freedom of speech, but that's not the case in Saudi Arabia, obviously."

    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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