Jailing of Saudi activist linked to 'Twitter infiltration'

Jailing of Saudi activist linked to 'Twitter infiltration'
2 min read
11 April, 2021
The sentencing of Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan to 20 years in prison has been linked to state-sponsored Twitter agents.
Saudi Twitter employees were caught smuggling user information [Getty]
The sentencing of a Saudi human rights activist and aid worker to 20 years in prison has been linked to state-sponsored Twitter agents in 2014, the Guardian reported on Saturday.

Activist and Red Crescent local aid worker Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan on Tuesday was sentenced to 20 years in prison and given a 20 years travel ban for allegedly running an anonymous social media account.

Prior to his sentencing, he was detained for 1,120 days with hearings held in secret prior to his conviction on Monday. His sister accused Saudi authorities of torturing the activist during his detention.

Al-Sadhan's conviction is thought to be related to an anonymous Twitter account he allegedly operated, which commented on issues relating to human rights and social justice in Saudi Arabia. 

His sentencing has renewed speculations that the Saudi infiltration of Twitter allowed authorities to track Al-Sadhan down.

Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who lives in exile in Canada told The Guardian that he was warned about the breach and was shown a list of activists targeted by Saudi authorities.

@sama7ti, an account that was allegedly run by Al-Sadhan was on the list.

“Most of the tweets were criticising the religious elite in Saudi Arabia,” Abdulaziz said.

“When I met the FBI they gave me a list, and I saw a couple of accounts that had been compromised, including @sama7ti. I think more than one person has been jailed because of this.”

 “For us [activists], Twitter is our platform. It is our parliament. We want to have a voice there, but [the Saudis] are using their tools, they’re using their experts, just to silence people. They don’t want us to share our opinion”, he added.

In 2019, the US Department of Justice charged three Saudi nationals with illegally accessing private information of “certain” owners of Twitter accounts and providing information about the accounts to the Saudi authorities.

Two of those charged were employees of Twitter who, according to the DoJ, used their employment to access information about Twitter users who were critical of the Riyadh government. The two former employees are believed to be in Saudi and were not apprehended by the US.

The private information that was obtained “could have been used to identify and locate” Twitter users who published posts who were critical of the regime, the DoJ said at the time.

Twitter has not disclosed the identities of those who were involved in the breach.

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