No Joke: Saudi Prince Declares War on Cyber Satire

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
AP/Cliff Owen

Online satire that “disrupts public order” is now punishable with up to five years in prison, the Saudi Arabia public prosecutor said Tuesday, as the kingdom seeks to end dissent questioning its absolute monarchy.

“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],” AFP reports the public prosecution declared.

The social networks falling under the purview of the new law includes Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat.

Declaring the end of online humor is just the latest step from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s attempts to put his mark on Saudi Arabia.

The heir to the Saudi throne has previously 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.

Now the previously prescribed Anti-Cyber Crime Law will include penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $799,353,000 for anyone convicted of using the Internet to “infringe on religious boundaries and social morals and ethics.”

This includes the production of offending material, whether pornographic or drug-related, and human trafficking as well as humor directed at the Royal family.

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.

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