Saudi Arabia declares online satire punishable offence

04 September 2018


Saudi Arabia will punish online satire that "disrupts public order" with up to five years in prison, the public prosecutor said Tuesday, as the kingdom cracks down on dissent.

"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 public prosecution tweeted late Monday.

The kingdom's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups over the targeting of human rights activists and political dissidents across the spectrum since his appointment in June 2017.

Saudi Arabia's legislation on cybercrime has sparked concern among international rights groups in the past.

Dozens of Saudi citizens have been convicted on charges linked to dissent under a previous sweeping law, particularly linked to posts on Twitter.

In September 2017, authorities issued a public call for citizens to report on the social media activities of their fellow citizens, under a broad definition of "terrorist" crimes.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor on Tuesday also announced it was seeking the death penalty in the case against Sheikh Salman al-Awda, a prominent Islamist cleric arrested last year along with 20 others.

Bangladesh Killings Send Chilling Message to Secular Bloggers

MARCH 30, 2015
The New York Times

DHAKA, Bangladesh — When the steamy, clamorous evening had settled over this city, and Oyasiqur Rhaman had finished his day’s work at a travel agency, he would turn to one of his favorite pastimes: Poking fun at fundamentalist Islam.

Mr. Rhaman, 27, blogged under the name Kutshit Hasher Chhana, or the Ugly Duckling, and he specialized in sharp-edged satire. In one post, he adopted the persona of a self-important believer fielding questions from an atheist. (An example: “See, the captive women, impressed at the heroism of the Muslim fighters, used to engage in sex with them willingly. Don’t you see that it gave pleasures to them as well?”) He posted photos of sausages wrapped in pastries, labeled “pigs in a burqa.”

On Monday morning, after he left home for the travel agency, Mr. Rhaman was killed for what he had posted. Three young men — among them students of madrasas here in the capital and in Chittagong — surrounded him and sliced at his head with machetes, cutting deep gouges into his forehead, face and throat. His body was left on the pavement in a pool of congealing blood.

Two men were captured by local residents and handed over to the police, according to Mohammad Salahuddin, who heads the district police station. Those men said an acquaintance known as Masum had instructed them to kill Mr. Rhaman because “he made some comments against Islam” on social media, but that they had not read the comments themselves.

The killing closely followed the pattern of another five weeks earlier, when young men with machetes surrounded a secular blogger and author, Avijit Roy, as he left a book fair.

Mr. Rhaman took Mr. Roy’s murder to heart, changing his Facebook profile image to read “I am Avijit.” Over the next few days, he also mourned the 2013 killing of another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, known online as Thaba Baba, and vowed to keep fighting.

“The pen will remain active, will continue till the death of your belief,” he wrote. “Get Islam destroyed, get Islam destroyed, get Islam destroyed.”

A writer using the name Biswaoy Balok, or Amazing Boy, responded in the comments section: “Son of a dog, you will also be killed.”

The deaths of Mr. Roy and Mr. Rhaman this month have sent a chilling message to the country’s secular bloggers, who say they are competing for the hearts and minds of young people exposed to oceans of material promoting conservative Islam.

Mr. Haider, Mr. Roy and Mr. Rhaman were all swept up in the 2013 Shahbag movement, which called for the death penalty for Islamist political leaders who were implicated in atrocities committed during the 1971 war for independence from Pakistan. The movement was met with a passionate response from young Islamist activists, deepening a divide among members of the same generation over whether Bangladesh is, or should be, a Muslim state.

Omi Rahman Pial, another prominent blogger from the same group, said he heard from five activists on Monday who said they were considering seeking asylum outside Bangladesh. Arif Jebtik, another activist, said that more “have begun shutting their blogs down” under pressure from their families.

It has always been risky for Bangladeshi intellectuals to criticize Islam, but when they fled the country, it used to be to avoid prosecution, not extremist violence, said Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi supreme court lawyer.

“People who have lived in conflict zones will describe how you move from being a society where you attack people verbally and try to invoke the law against them,” she said. “Now our society is increasingly going toward one where you murder your enemies.”

Many people here had a mixed reaction to Mr. Roy’s death, condemning the violence but also taking issue with his views.

“Look, 93.2 percent of Bangladeshis are Muslim, and 80 percent of those are against what he wrote,” said Abdullah Fahim, 22, a business student at North South University, a private institution here. “I don’t know why our government gave him the liberty to write against Islam.”

Monirul Islam, a police official who is overseeing the investigation into Mr. Roy’s death, said the police have seen a pattern of attacks on writers and intellectuals. Those involved are often well-off, Internet-savvy young people, he said, and not the impoverished men who typically committed such crimes in the past. Mr. Islam said the attackers operate in small groups and have been active so far in eight to 10 of the country’s 64 districts.

“At this stage, their strategy is silent, targeted killing,” he said.

Though the killing of Mr. Roy happened more than a month ago in a crowded street full of witnesses, the police have so far made only one arrest — Shafiur Rahman Farabi, who called for him to be murdered in a Facebook post.

Mr. Islam said Mr. Farabi “disclosed some information,” and that the police have identified additional suspects, a group of men not directly connected with Mr. Farabi. He said he believed more than five people were involved, and that several of them probably attended North South University.

The authorities were luckier on Monday, when bystanders caught two men trying to flee the scene; a third man escaped. In an exchange with journalists, the two suspects seemed remorseless, according to Mohammad Jamil Khan, a reporter for The Dhaka Tribune.

“They were talking with me very happily, that they have done a good job by killing the blogger,” Mr. Khan told the BBC. “They don’t feel any guilt. They think they have done a very good job for their religion.”

Saudi liberal gets 10 years in jail, 1,000 lashes

By Staff Writer | Al Arabiya News
Thursday, 8 May 2014

A Saudi court sentenced Raef Badawi, the founder of a liberal Internet forum, to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes Wednesday over allegations of "insulting Islam.”

Badawi, was also ordered to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666/191,846 euros), the website’s co-founder Suad al-Shamari, told AFP.

In August last year a court sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in jail in addition to 600 flogs “for establishing a liberal website and adopting the liberal thinking and insulting Islam,” according to Saudi media reports.

But a higher court overturned that decision and ordered a retrial by a different court.

Last month, a Saudi court in Jeddah ordered the permanent closure of the website for publishing what was perceived as anti-Islamic content, the Saudi news website Sabq reported.

Sabq said a number of Saudis had demanded the closure of the Saudi Liberal Network for posting stories and comments that are considered against religion and morality.
The website said the court’s decision “prompted good reactions by many of those who had called for such an action and had filed lawsuits against the network and its members.”

Man gets 5 years for insulting Islam on Facebook

The Jakarta Post, Bandung | Archipelago | Wed, January 23 2013

The Bandung High Court has added one more year to the prison term of Sebastian Joe, who was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for the blasphemy of Islam by the Ciamis District Court in West Java.

The high court decided on Tuesday to give Sebastian a higher sentence as it used the 2008 Information and Electronic Transaction (ITE) Law as a lex specialis (special law), instead of the Criminal Code (KUHP) used by the district court, said Sebastian’s lawyer, Anang Fitriana, as quoted by on Wednesday.

Sebastian was reported by the Ciamis chapter of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) last year for a Facebook status he made, which they considered insulting to Islam.

Anang said that he planned to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Nigeria rights group to appeal Facebook ruling

By Randy Fabi
Wednesday, March 24, 2010; 12:40 PM

ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian civil rights group said Wednesday it would appeal an Islamic court order to shut down its chat forums on Facebook and Twitter which criticize the practice of Islamic law in northern states.

An Islamic court in the northern city of Kaduna Monday ruled for the Association of the Muslim Brotherhood of Nigeria, which sought to censor debate on the social networking sites over an amputation case that occurred 10 years ago.

The Civil Rights Congress began the debate on Facebook and Twitter last week, asking members their opinions over the amputation of a peasant farmer's hand in March 2000 after he was convicted by an Islamic court for stealing a cow.

Shehu Sani, the group's president, said he started the discussion to highlight what he believes is the unfair practice of sharia law by Nigeria's northern states.

"Sharia law seems to only apply to the poor and downtrodden. It is wrong that this farmer's hand was amputated, while politicians steal hundreds of millions of dollars without being punished," he said.

The rights group is expected to appeal the ruling to an upper sharia court Monday.

"We condemn the ruling and reject it. We think it is a violation of our freedom of expression," Sani said.

Africa's most populous nation is roughly equally divided between a mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south.

More than 200 ethnic groups generally live peacefully side by side but there have been regular outbreaks of violence, particularly in the "Middle Belt" separating the north and south, where sectarian clashes have killed hundreds this year. Islamic jurisprudence in Nigeria is based on the moderate Maliki school of Sunni Islam.

The enforcement of sharia law in 12 of Nigeria's 36 states in 2000 alienated sizeable Christian minorities in the north and sparked clashes which killed thousands.

Egypt Blogger Begins Prison Sentence For "Insulting" Islam ; Christians Attacked

Journal Chretien
February 27, 2007

CAIRO, EGYPT — A young Egyptian blogger who criticized Muslim violence against Coptic Christians was behind bars Friday, February 23, after being sentenced to four years imprisonment for "insulting" Islam, "inciting sectarian strife" and "defaming" President Hosni Mubarak with his Internet writings.

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, had been a vocal secularist and sharp critic of radical Muslims in his blog. Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, often lashed out at Al-Azhar - the most prominent religious center in Sunni Islam - calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of encouraging extremism.

Judge Ayman al-Akazi of a court in the city of Alexandria sentenced Nabil to three years in prison for "insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad" and "inciting sectarian strife" and another year for "insulting President" Mubarak.

He said Nabil insulted the Prophet Muhammad especially with a piece he wrote in 2005 after riots in which angry Muslim worshippers attacked a Coptic Christian church over a play deemed offensive to Islam.


"Muslims revealed their true ugly face and appeared to all the world that they are full of brutality, barbarism and inhumanity," Nabil wrote at the time. He called Muhammad and his 7th century followers, the Sahaba, "spillers of blood" for their teachings on warfare - a comment cited by the judge. However court observers also noted that the judge overlooked Nabil’s clarification of the comments. He said Muhammad was "great" but that his teachings on warfare and other issues should be viewed as a product of their times.

In other writings, he reportedly called Al-Azhar the "other face of the coin of [terror network] al-Qaida" and called for the university to be dissolved or turned into a secular institution. He also criticized President Mubarak, calling him "the symbol of tyranny."

Nabil’s lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, said he would appeal the verdict. He and human rights groups also warned that the sentencing could have "a negative impact on freedom of expression" in Egypt. "This sentence is yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director of human rights group Amnesty International (AI) in a statement to BosNewsLife.

"The Egyptian authorities must protect the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, even if the views expressed might be perceived by some as offensive." The official said AI considers the blogger "a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression" of his views. AI urged Egypt to "repeal legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion."


Nabil, sitting in the defendant’s pen, did not react as the verdict was read and made no comments as he was led to a prison truck outside, eyewitnesses said. Seconds after the door was closed, an Associated Press agency reporter claimed to have heard "a slap from inside the truck and a scream."

Last year another Internet writer, Hala Helmy Botros, was forced to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood, or ’Copts Without Borders’ about the plight of Copts and to stop writing on this subject for other websites. Botros, who is in her 40s, wrote under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry and became the target of a judicial investigation and was banned from leaving the country, BosNewsLife learned.

Thursday’s sentencing of Nabil came amid growing religious tensions between Muslims and minority Christians in Egypt. This month police reportedly detained Christian families in Upper Egypt and forced them to deny arson attacks on their homes during a spate of anti-Christian violence last week.

Two Coptic Orthodox families said police detained them for 36 hours when they attempted to report a February 13 assault on their homes in Armant, 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Cairo. The fires came five days after Muslim groups set four Christian-owned shops alight on February 9.

International media said reports of a love affair between a Christian man and Muslim woman sparked the violence, but local media said hostilities broke out over accusations that Christians were blackmailing Muslim women to convert.