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Saudi Lawyers Sentenced To 8 Years Behind Bars For Tweeting

The criminal court, which usually tries terrorism cases, said the lawyers' actions on Twitter undermined general order.

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A Saudi Arabian court on Monday sentenced three lawyers to up to eight years in jail for sending tweets critical of the government.

The tweets were directed against the Justice Ministry, which has since 2010 promised to reform the courts system and codify just how the country's legal adherence to Sharia law works.

Prosecutors charged the three lawyers with "contempt of the judiciary, interfering with its independence, criticizing the justice system and the judiciary."

For unexplained reasons, the case took place under the auspices of the Specialized Criminal Court, which was created in 2008, ostensibly to conduct trials against suspected terrorists.

The three lawyers — identified previously as Abdulrahman Al Rumaih, Abdulrahman Al Sobaihi and Bander Alnogaithan — are currently caught in an escalating series of punishments from the Saudi Justice Ministry for their tweets.

In June, the three were fined more than 1 million Saudi riyals ($266,666) for criticizing the lack of progress in the promised reforms. They were also subjected to a "complete media ban," the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. "The lawyers were also ordered to issue a formal apology to Justice Minister Mohammed Al Isa," it said.

The legal committee that issued the punishment said in a statement that the critical tweets were "improvised tweets which are extremely bad in vocabulary and content."

In the months after that, a Justice Ministry disciplinary committee stripped the lawyers of their licenses to practice law. Monday's ruling was the latest punitive action.

Alnogaithan's self-named law firm also has a Twitter account, which hasn't tweeted since last November.

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Alnogaithan Law@AlnogaithanFollow

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The last item posted from the account was a link to a news article critical of the Education Ministry's lack of implementation of a court order.

Monday's ruling marks at least the fourth instance of the Saudi government arresting civilians for their tweets this year.

In one case, a man was jailed for — as Fahd al Bakran, a Justice Ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying in March — inciting "families of those arrested for security reasons to protest by publishing Tweets and videos on YouTube." The man, who had previously been arrested on similar charges, was sentenced to eight years in jail and banned from using social media for a further eight years.

The next day, a second man was also "convicted of utilizing websites that are "hostile to the government and that promote deviant ideologies." That was worth 10 years being added onto a previous three-year-long sentence.

In July, another man was jailed for three years and sentenced to 450 lashes for posting tweets in which he was allegedly seeking to meet gay men.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

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