Saudi Arabia has sent seven people to jail for up to ten years for posting status messages calling for anti-government protests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
According to a statement issued Sunday by the New York-based human rights organization, the seven activists were all from the country’s Eastern Province and were convicted and sentenced to prison for terms ranging from five to ten years.
The eastern sector has seen a number of demonstrations by minority Shi’ites over alleged government discrimination and negligence since the region-wide Arab Spring uprisings two years ago.
“Sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there’s no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks,” HRW deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in the statement.
“If the European Union doesn’t raise these cases with Saudi officials this weekend, its silence will look like craven compliance with the rights abuses of an authoritarian state.”
EU officials, including foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and other European officials, are meeting on Sunday with their Gulf counterparts – including Saudi Arabia.
Numerous Arab media have reported that Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) banned Viber earlier this month, and also plans to block the WhatsApp Internet-based communications app as well, along with Skype.
The Saudi government makes a routine practice of closely monitoring all social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter.