Saudi Arabian dissident Awad Al-Qarnin faces death penalty over Twitter and WhatsApp use - reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (REUTERS)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (REUTERS)

A leading pro-reform activist in Saudi Arabia, is facing the death penalty after facing accusations that he spread “hostile” news on WhatsApp and had a Twitter account - which is forbidden in some cases within the kingdom.

Awad Al-Qarni, 65, was arrested in September 2017 in what was thought to be the beginning of a crackdown on dissent led by then newly named crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Prosecutors against Mr Al-Qarni are now pushing for the death penalty, The Guardian reported on Sunday.

The accused’s son Nasser has reportedly shared documents which show the demands prosecutors are making, although the court is yet to make a judgement.

Twitter is forbidden to the extent that a woman was recently given a 34-year jail sentence for using the social media platform to retweet messages of activists.

Mr Al-Qarni had more than two million followers and split opinion between the state, which called him dangerous, and dissidents.

Mr Al-Qarni’s plight has served as further evidence that Prince Mohammed is cracking down on use of social media within the kingdom, which subscribes to Sharia laws which are considered strict even within the Arab world.

At the same time, the Saudi government has reportedly increased financial stakes within Twitter and Meta - which owns Facebook and WhatsApp. In addition, the country’s sovereign wealth fund has also increased its share within Meta.

The Guardian reported that the documents discussing Mr Al-Qarni showed that the insurgent had confessed to the indiscretions.

Jeed Basyouni, head of human rights group Reprieve, said: “If it wasn’t so sinister, it would be farcical. It is consistent with how they’re operating under this crown prince.”

The Saudi government did not respond to requests for comment, The Guardian said.