Saudi Arabia has sentenced a girl of secondary school age to 18 years in jail and imposed a travel ban for posting tweets in support of political prisoners, according to a rights group.
ALQST rights group, which documents human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, on Friday said the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court handed out the sentence in August to 18-year-old Manal al-Gafiri, who was only 17 at the time of her arrest, reports Middle East Eye.
The Saudi judiciary, under the de facto rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has handed down severe prison sentences for cases related to cyber activism and the criticism of the government through social media platforms
One such instance is the recent imposition of the death penalty on Mohammed al-Ghamdi, a retired teacher, for remarks he made on Twitter and YouTube. Additionally, Salma al-Shehab, a doctoral candidate at Leeds University, received a 34-year sentence for tweets posted last year.
During a comprehensive interview with Fox News on Wednesday, the crown prince acknowledged Ghamdi's sentence and attributed it to "bad laws" that he cannot change.
"We are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws, and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because... that's against the rule of law," he said.
However, human rights defenders and lawyers in Saudi Arabia vehemently contested Mohammed bin Salman's assertions, saying that the crackdown on social media users is closely linked to his rise to power and the establishment of new judicial entities, which have subsequently intensified the suppression of his critics.
Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi lawyer and legal consultant affiliated with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, said, "He has the ability, with a single word or a stroke of his pen, to alter the laws within seconds if he so desires," during an interview with Middle East Eye this week.
Joey Shea, a researcher on Saudi Arabia at Human Rights Watch, revealed that Ghamdi's sentencing was carried out under a counterterrorism law enacted in 2017, shortly after Mohammed bin Salman assumed the position of crown prince. This law has faced criticism for its expansive definition of terrorism.
Likewise, in the same year, two new institutions—the Presidency of State Security and the Public Prosecution Office—were established through royal decrees.
Human rights organisations have said that the 2017 restructuring of the kingdom's security apparatus has significantly empowered the suppression of dissenting voices in Saudi Arabia, including those of women's rights advocates and opposition activists.