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Death Sentence for Online Posts Raises Concerns Over Free Speech in Saudi Arabia

In a shocking move, a Saudi Arabian court has sentenced retired teacher Muhammad al-Ghamdi, 54, to death over his online comments. According to multiple sources, al-Ghamdi was targeted following his posts on the Musk-owned platform X, previously known as Twitter, and on YouTube. These posts were critical of corruption, human rights violations, and the Saudi government. Details of the case include:

  • The conviction is based on five tweets that criticized corruption and human rights abuses.
  • The specific charges include describing the King or Crown Prince in a negative light, supporting a terrorist ideology, communicating with a terrorist entity, and spreading false news.
  • The sentencing was delivered by Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, originally formed to oversee terror-related cases.

Joey Shea, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, commented on the case, saying, “Repression in Saudi Arabia has reached a terrifying new stage when a court can hand down the death penalty for nothing more than peaceful tweets.”

Increased Scrutiny on Saudi’s Record

Saudi Arabia has come under increasing scrutiny for its record on human rights and free speech. According to data from various human rights organizations:

  • Saudi Arabia executed at least 92 people this year alone.
  • The number of executions in 2022 was 148, more than twice the number recorded in 2021.
  • Amnesty International placed Saudi Arabia third, after China and Iran, in terms of the number of executions in 2022, with nearly 200 inmates executed – the highest in three decades.

Lina Alhathloul, head of monitoring and advocacy at ALQST and sister of a former political prisoner, noted an “escalating crackdown” on free speech. She stated that this case sends a “clear and sinister message that even a tweet can get you killed.”

Retaliation against Government Critics?

Al-Ghamdi’s brother, Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a prominent Saudi Islamic scholar and government critic living in exile in the UK, has weighed in on the case. He believes the harsh penalty might be in retaliation against his own criticisms of the Saudi government. The authorities have previously asked him to return, which he has refused. Saeed mentioned, “It is very probable that this death sentence against my brother is in retaliation for my activity.”

Musk’s Platform and the Controversy

This case has also cast a spotlight on tech billionaire Elon Musk, owner of the social media platform X. Despite his often vocal commitment to uninhibited free speech, Musk has remained silent on this case. This silence comes as a surprise, given his recent pledge to cover the legal costs for anyone penalized for their activity on his platform.

Human Rights Watch highlighted the case in a recent news release, drawing attention to the severity of the punishment for online activism.

Many online speculate that Musk’s hesitancy could be tied to his financial links with the Saudi royal family. Musk’s acquisition of platform X and his interactions with major stakeholders like Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal have been controversial. After buying the platform, Musk allowed right-leaning journalists access to company files, later known as “The Twitter Files,” to highlight potential censorship.


The case of Muhammad al-Ghamdi not only raises concerns about freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia but also places tech giants and global influencers in a challenging position. As platforms grow and evolve, they must navigate the fine line between upholding user rights and respecting geopolitical complexities.

Ryan Lenett
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