Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [press release] European Union's High Representative Catherine Ashton [official profile] and other EU [official website] member states' representatives to condemn Saudi Arabia for recently convicting seven governmental critics of inciting protests through Facebook. The men were detained for a year and a half before being charged and sent to trial. All seven were convicted of inciting protests through Facebook and of harming public order via the internet, in violation of the nation's Anti-Cyber Crime Law. Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at HRW, called on the EU to confront Saudi Arabia about its crackdown on protesters:
"Sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there’s no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks. If the EU doesn’t raise these cases with Saudi officials this weekend, its silence will look like craven compliance with the rights abuses of an authoritarian state."EU representatives are meeting with their Gulf region counterparts in Bahrain on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for conducting unfair trials against human rights activists. Abdulkarim al-Khader, one of the founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) [advocacy website, in Arabic], which aimed to increase awareness of civil rights in the country, was sentenced [JURIST report] last week to eight years in prison for sedition. A Saudi Arabian court in January convicted [JURIST report] prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi of smuggling drugs and sentenced him to five years imprisonment and 300 lashes. El-Gezawi's arrest sparked protests by those who believe the activist was arrested for insulting King Abdullah. In December HRW urged Saudi Arabia to drop apostasy charges [JURIST report] against a website editor who co-founded the religious discussion website Free Saudi Liberals, claiming that his arrest violated his right to freedom of expression. In August several international human rights groups sent a letter to the Saudi Ministry of Justice [official website, in Arabic] seeking to observe the trials of four rights activists [JURIST report] who faced charges of defaming the country's reputation, supporting international human rights groups and sparking demonstrations against the government.