Saudi Arabia to Crack Down on ‘Anti-Islamic’ Social Media Posts

June 2, 2014  

Saudi authorities are cracking down on social media, the Saudi Gazette reports Monday, and are in the process of reviewing the Anti-Cybercrime Law to allow legal proceedings to be filed against social networking sites for allowing accounts which promote adultery, atheism, and homosexuality. 

The Saudi Anti-Cybercrime Law was enacted by royal decree on March 26, 2007. According to the Gazette, the law – like many cyber-security laws enacted since the rise of the internet – aims “to ensure information security, protection of rights pertaining to the legitimate use of computers and information networks.”

But it also functions as a “big brother” over the Saudi people to enforce Riyadh’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law, with a clause also seeking “the protection of public interest, morals, and common values.”

According to the New York Times, roughly half of the estimated 23.7 million people living in Saudi Arabia use the internet, and an estimated six million use Facebook. 

The internal review on conduct on social networking follows Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq’s strong condemnation of women and men chatting on the internet, after he said “the devil would be present when women talk to men” in that context during a fiery speech last week. Mutlaq is a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars – Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body – and the remarks could have lasting political and legal ramifications if acted upon. 

Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has classified Saudi Arabia as among the most repressive countries in a global ranking on news and information censorship; in 2014, it ranked as the 164th most free country from a total of 180. 

But the announcement not only highlights Saudi Arabia’s iron fist on its press; it shows a dominant trend of social media crackdowns in the Middle East, particularly in Turkey. 

In March, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan limited access to Twitter after it had been used to spread a torrent of anonymous leaks implicating his inner circle in corruption.

Turkey’s NATO allies and international human rights groups strongly criticized the ban, as well a subsequent block of video-sharing website YouTube, causing the ruling to be overturned in April. 

The social media bans follow the lead of other fundamentalist countries – including Iran, where Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter are blocked. 

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