(NEW YORK)— The sentencing of retired teacher Mohammed al-Ghamdi to death over his posts on social media in Saudi Arabia is a “horrifying escalation” of an already brutal crackdown on free expression in the kingdom, PEN America said today.

A Saudi Specialized Criminal Court reportedly sentenced the teacher on July 10 over posts on X (formerly Twitter) criticizing corruption and human rights violations in the kingdom, as well as his retweets on the platform and activity on Youtube.

Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead at PEN America, said in response: “Saudi Arabia’s sentencing Mohammed al-Ghamdi to death for posting and sharing on social media is a horrifying escalation of an already brutal crackdown on free expression. Saudi authorities have become adept at weaponizing laws and mechanisms purportedly aimed at combating terrorism against peaceful critics instead. The sentence  exposes the ultimate hollowness of the government’s attempts to use cultural events to whitewash their image. Saudi authorities should overturn this sentence immediately and free Mohammed al-Ghamdi, and all others imprisoned for their writing or social media activity.”

Al-Ghamdi was arrested in June 2022 and was charged and convicted under several articles of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism law, including “publishing false news” and writing about the Saudi king or crown prince “in a way that undermines religion or justice.” Al-Ghamdi’s brother, Saeed al-Ghamdi, posted that he believed the sentence was an attempt by Saudi authorities to retaliate against him outside the country; Saeed sought asylum in 2018 and has been a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since.

Saudi social media users have received decades-long sentences for posts on social media, as part of a long-running crackdown on perceived criticism of bin Salman that shows no sign of abating. Saudi Arabia is ranked third in PEN America’s 2022 Freedom to Write Index, with at least 20 writers behind bars in 2022.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057