Reflection: Saudi Arabia Government Sentences Woman to 45 Years for Her Tweets

 

At the beginning of September, Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison after being held for more than a year. She was sentenced for, “‘using the Internet to tear the [country’s] social fabric’ and ‘violating the public order by using social media’”. She was convicted by the Specialized Criminal Court under the Counter-Terrorism Law and Anti-Cyber Crime law. Her arrest and sentence came after she tweeted opinions and criticisms of the Saudi government. Abdullah Alaoudh, the Director of Research for the Gulf Region at DAWN (Democracy for the Arab World Now), stated, “‘It is impossible not to connect the dots between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s meeting with President Biden last month in Jeddah and the uptick in the repressive attacks against anyone who dares criticize the Crown Prince or the Saudi government for well-documented abuses.” The article then goes deeper into the laws that were used to sentence Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani. The laws are overly broad and vague in language and allow the government more flexibility when it comes to interpretation.

My area of focus is on expression and the lack thereof. This article is a clear representation of what the lack of expression is within a country. Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was not only sentenced for expressing specifically an opinion on the government, but she was also sentenced an unfair amount of time. This is the government’s opportunity to further their oppression by socially criminalizing the freedom of expression. How is this an issue? First, through the government’s ability to punish opinions and the posting of them in general. Second, the amount of time given for this “crime” is excessive. 45 years in prison for opinions sends a message. 45 years in prison sets an message to the public that simple forms of expression through social media can result in censorship and oppression for the rest of your life. This article taught me how easy it can be for governments to censor a person and potentially a community or movement. All you need is an overly broad law with punishments that are disproportionate to the crime. These harsh punishments tell the public that freedom of expression comes at an extreme cost that most aren’t willing to pay. This fear alone creates a practice of self-censorship. The “management” of expression has become a tool that instills self-censorship and allows the government to pick and choose who’s violated what.

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