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Saudi pro-government media warn citizens off 'spreading Khashoggi tweets' with 5yr jail threat

Gulf states have launched a massive crackdown on online dissent [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 October, 2018

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Those found producing, sharing or storing material that breaches public order, religious values, public morals and privacy, could face imprisonment and a hefty fine, Saudi media warned.

Saudi pro-government media has recirculated government laws on sharing “fake news” across social media platforms, warning users could face imprisonment and hefty fine, as global outrage surrounding the fate of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues to grip world news.

“Sharing or spreading rumours or fake news that might affect public order and security is considered cybercrime punishable by 5-year imprisonment and SR 3 million fine,” the Saudi Gazette reported, citing the kingdom’s Public Prosecution.

The law targets those who “produce or spread or share electronically anything that breaches public order, religious values, public morals and privacy,” it added, noting even those store such material on their personal computers or social media networks could face a similar punishment.

Gulf states have launched a massive crackdown on online dissent with a number of new cyber laws.

The stern warning, which has been carried by a number of pro-government and state-run media platforms, comes as Saudi Arabia continued to face international criticism and pressure over the fate of disappearance and presumed murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi media has gone full throttle since reports suggesting Khashoggi was murdered by official Saudi operatives inside its consulate in Turkey emerged online, echoing similar statements by Riyadh.

On Monday, the Arabic-language daily Okaz wrote a headline English warning: “Don’t Test Our Patience”, alongside an image of a clenched fist.

The Saudi Gazette, which warned against spreading anti-government material online, trumpeted “Enough Is Enough”, while the Arab News asserted “Saudi Arabia ‘will not be bullied’.”

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. Saudi Arabia has strongly denied this but has failed to explain the journalist's fate after entering its consulate building.

International media giants and business heavyweights have decided to boycott a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia – dubbed "Davos in the Desert" – following the Saudi journalist's disappearance.

US President Donald Trump on Saturday vowed there would be "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabia had killed Khashoggi but cautioned against halting arms deals, warning it would negatively impact the US economy.

Saudi Arabia in return threatened a strong response to possible sanctions, in a statement carried by state news agency SPA on Sunday, citing an official source. 

"The kingdom affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action," the statement said.

"The kingdom also affirms its total rejection of any threats or attempts to undermine it whether through threats to impose economic sanctions or the use of political pressure,"

The statement also condemned "false accusations aimed at undermining" the country, without directly acknowledging Khashoggi's disappearance.

Jamal Khashoggi is one of the Arab world's best-known journalists, having fled Saudi Arabia following Mohammed bin Salman's clampdown on perceived critics.

He moved to the US and has been a contributor to The Washington Post.

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