With the Arab Spring sweeping the region, from Tunisia to Bahrain, one country which has remained relatively immune to any form of protests is Saudi Arabia. What few attempts have been made in the struggle for freedom of speech have been swiftly quashed.
The latest blow comes in the form of the arrest of human rights activist, Fadhil Makki al-Manasif, and bloggers Mustafa al-Badr Al Mubarak and Husain Kazhim al-Hashim. Human Rights Watch reported that the 27 year old activist al-Manasif was arrested on May 1 for his participation in peaceful demonstrations, an activity outlawed in Saudi Arabia.
Demonstrations in Saudi Arabia have not attracted the large numbers seen throughout the region, with anywhere between dozens or hundreds of protesters taking to the streets, calling for the release of political prisoners. If anything, the response from the monarchy has been to further strip citizens of their freedoms.
Amendments have been made to the Press and Publication Laws in Saudi Arabia, chipping even further at its citizens’ freedom of speech. The changes prohibit publishing anything that “contradicts rulings of the Islamic Sharia [law] or regulations in force,” anything that “calls for disturbing the country’s security, or its public order, or services foreign interests that contradict national interests,” and anything that “causes sectarianism or that spreads divisions between citizens.” Since January, this has come to include online publishing, putting Saudi Arabia at the top of the list of governments severely restricting self-expression online.
The Human Rights Watch report comes in the wake of the controversial arrest in Egypt of Maikel Nabil, a blogger recently sentenced to three years in prison on charges of insulting the army, along with similar arrests taking place in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
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