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Saudi Writer Jailed for Four Years for Criticizing Monarchy on TV

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced reformist writer Zuhair Kutbi to fours years in prison and banned him from travel.

The Saudi media reported the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) convicted him “on charges of sedition, inciting public opinion and reducing the government’s prestige.”

They cut the sentence to only two years, but forbade Kutbi from “writing for 15 years and traveling abroad for five, and fined [him] $26,600.” He also must delete his Twitter account.

Saudi officials detained Kutbi on July 15 after he suggested the country become a “constitutional monarchy and pushing back against religious repression” on a television show.

Amnesty International reported that officials “beat him with their rifle butts.” The police interrogated him, but said he needed medical attention since he has diabetes and high blood pressure and is recovering from cancer. It is not the first time Saudi officials harassed him:

He had been harassed and intimidated since the 1990s for his peaceful activism, and had been detained. He had also been sentenced at least three times since the 1990s, to months in prison and fines for calling for reforms and criticizing prison conditions in Saudi Arabia, and made to sign a pledge not to discuss public issues with the written or broadcast media, or in writing on his social media accounts.

Saudi Arabia has a history of punishing anyone expressing dissenting political opinions. The government sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes in May 2014. Authorities arrested Badawi in 2012 after he criticized the country’s religious police.

The story grew to international prominence in January when police began administering the lashes, which will be 50 lashes in 20 sessions. He received the first 50, but the government postponed the second on medical grounds.

The Saudi Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence in June. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, said in October he is due to receive the second 50 lashes soon.

“The informed source also said that the flogging will resume soon but will be administered inside the prison,” she wrote on his website. “It is worth mentioning that the same source had warned me of Raif’s pending flogging at the beginning of January 2015 and his warning was confirmed, as Raif was flogged on 9th January.”

In December, Haidar informed the public that Saudi officials moved her husband to an isolated prison where he began a hunger strike.

Haidar and their three children now live in Canada, where they were given political asylum. She traveled to France to receive her husband’s Sakharov award, which “honours freedom of thought.”

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