The courts of Saudi Arabia have sentenced a 28-year-old man to 2,000 lashes and 10 years jail for declaring on Twitter that he was an atheist. As if this weren’t enough, he has also been fined approximately $5,500. According to the Independent, Saudi Arabian religious authorities found over 600 posts declaring the man’s atheism, denying Quranic verses and calling various prophets liars. The posts were discovered by what a Saudi newspaper described as the “religious police,” and seemed to refer to a specific unit that monitors social media. Upon being confronted with the tweets, the man refused to repent, standing by his stated positions on both atheism and his disdain for Islam. He reportedly claimed that his statements were only of personal belief and that he was within his rights to express himself in this way.
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While Saudi Arabia has never been known for its tolerance of political or social criticism, the new laws go a step further in basically defining any form of dissent as terrorism. This allows for much harsher penalties, and may explain the recent rash of executions that have taken place in the kingdom. It would appear that the generalized anxiety about terrorism, especially in the Middle East, has provided something of a golden opportunity for Saudi security forces attempting to mop up noisy or embarrassing dissidents.
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It had been hoped that with the passing of King Abdullah, reforms might take place in Saudi Arabia. King Salman, the new king of Saudi Arabia, did in fact begin his reign by making some seemingly significant gestures. In the early part of his reign, King Salman made some reforms in the areas of votes for women, women and driving, and some other minor regulations. This led some commentators to become enthused with the idea of a new and “liberal” Saudi Arabia. Seasoned Saudi watchers, however, were unconvinced that there would be any fundamental change in the kingdom’s ultra-conservative, Salafist Islam-driven law. It would appear that multiple executions, continual accusations of flagrant abuses of human rights, and the persistence with which floggings and long prison sentences are handed out for what, in the West, would be trivial or non-existent crimes would seem to belie the idea that Saudi Arabia is marching along the road to modern democracy.
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