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Saudi Arabia cracks down on online satire, threatens dissenters with prison time

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace for a meeting with French president on April 10 in Paris. The crown prince has been credited with reforms in his country, but also with an intensified crackdown on critics. (LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s government stressed Monday that online satire would not be tolerated and could be punishable by a steep fine or prison time.

What are the details?

Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution announced Monday that those convicted of committing “informational crime” by mocking the state on a social media platform could face up to five years in prison or a fine worth the equivalent of $800,000.

The tweet from the Public Prosecution, according to a translation provided by Agence France-Presse, read:

Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media ... will be considered a cybercrime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals ($800,000).

The nation has a long history of prosecuting dissenters. Before this new law was announced, the government was already targeting online dissenters using existing anti-cybercrime laws.

In September 2017, the government called on Saudi citizens to report anyone they saw posting content on social media that the government would consider sufficiently objectionable.

What's new?

This latest crackdown is part of an effort by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to stifle opposition. The crown prince has been praised by many in the West for being a modernizing force, and in some ways he has been.

Under his guidance, some women have been given more privileges, including the right to drive cars, to attend soccer games, and to operate food trucks. He also worked to reform the nation’s economic sector.

At the same time, however, he has targeted the opposition, even arresting several members of his own family. Women's rights advocates and human rights advocates have also been arrested. Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for at least five of those advocates.

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