Elon Musk under fire for silence over man facing death sentence for tweets

Elon Musk under fire for silence over man facing death sentence for tweets

Tech billionaire Elon Musk is being criticised for his silence after a man in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to death for his comments against the government on X, the social media platform owned by him.

On 10 July 2023, a counterterrorism tribunal in the country convicted Muhammad al-Ghamdi for criticising authorising on Twitter and YouTube,  said Human Rights Watch.

Arrested on 11 June last year, the 54-year-old retired teacher was kept in solitary confinement for four months before he was found guilty of “describing the King or the Crown Prince in a way that undermines religion or justice”.

He was also convicted of “supporting a terrorist ideology”, “communication with a terrorist entity,” and publishing false news “with the intention of executing a terrorist crime” with judgement concluding that he used his accounts on the X, formally Twitter, platform and YouTube to commit his “crimes”, according to the documents obtained by the rights group.

While rights groups have criticised the conviction, Mr Musk, a self-professed “free-speech absolutist”, has so far not issued any public statement on the matter. His silence stands out more so because of his commitment earlier last month to cover the legal costs of those being treated “unfairly” by their employer due to their activities on social media.

“If you were unfairly treated by your employer due to posting or liking something on this platform, we will fund your legal bill,” he had posted on 6 August. “No limit. Please let us know.”

However, raising the question on Mr Musk’s silence, Sarah Leah-Whitson, executive director of Dawn, an organisation founded by slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi wrote: “Why is @ElonMusk silent on Saudi man sentenced to DEATH for his Tweets by X’s second largest owner?”

“I mean he owns a platform where the second largest investor is a country that literally murders and mutilates the bodies of journalists, we can’t exactly be shocked,” wrote another user.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia became the second-largest shareholder after Mr Musk of X, formerly Twitter, on the day he closed the deal to buy the social media company.

A federal judge in 2022 dismissed a lawsuit filed by the fiance of Khashoggi against Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, citing president Joe Biden’s grant of immunity. Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in 2018 allegedly by Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, criticising the conviction, HRW’s Joey Shea said: “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.

“Saudi authorities have escalated their campaign against all dissent to mind-boggling levels and should reject this travesty of justice.”

“Saudi authorities have spent billions of dollars trying to rehabilitate their image, but no amount of money can whitewash just how repressive the country has become,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The death sentence against Mohammad bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, who has a total of just 10 followers on both of his anonymous Twitter accounts and is accused of nothing other than expressing his opinions on social media, is ludicrous. It is a marked escalation in the kingdom’s crackdown on any form of dissent.”

According to UK-based human rights group ALQST, in 2022 about 148 executions were carried out in Saudi Arabia – more than twice the number of executions recorded in 2021, reported CNN.

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