Saudi Arabia has put behind bars another civil society activist and writer despite the outpouring of international condemnation over the kingdom’s continued repression of dissent.
Zuhair Kutbi, a reformist who had called in his writings for political change in Saudi Arabia, “was sentenced to four years prison,” his lawyer said on Monday.
Ibrahim al-Midaymiq said in a tweet that half of the sentence was suspended, adding that Kutbi has also been banned from writing for 15 years.
Kutbi’s son, Jameel Zuhair, confirmed the prison sentence, adding that his father was also fined 100,000 riyals ($26,667) and banned from travelling for five years.
The verdict comes amid an international outcry over the fate of dissidents in Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, David Kaye, censured Saudi Arabia’s punishment for bloggers and rights advocates, saying the rising number of court rulings involving rights issues is a sign of “growing repression” in the kingdom.
The regime in Riyadh is particularly under pressure over sentences handed down to three activists, namely blogger Raif Badawi, social media activist Mikhlif al-Shammari and Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh. Rights group have repeatedly called for the release of the three, while also calling on Saudis to halt flogging of Badawi.
Saudi authorities have yet to officially comment on Kutbi’s jail sentence, although the Kutbi’s son had earlier said that his father was to be sentenced by a “terrorism” court. Saudi authorities routinely accuse political dissidents and members of civil society activists of plotting against the kingdom and stirring the public opinion, linking them to terrorism issues.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has said in August that Saudis arrested and questioned Kutbi after he gave an interview in June to the private Rotana Khalijia TV channel, in which the 62-year-old apparently called for reforms including “transforming the country into a constitutional monarchy” and combating political repression.
During the video, which went viral on the social media, Kutbi said that he had been jailed six times, adding that officials put him in an “insane asylum” just for his reformist calls.
He also said in the interview that most Saudi intellectuals “do not speak the truth” and that “racism and regionalism” have become a part of Saudi identity.