This post is by Hiba Zayadin
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Abdullah Al-Maglooth and Raif Badawi are both Saudi bloggers. They both enjoy a massive online following. But while one of them was honored
at the Arab Social Media Awards
for employing social media channels to promote positivity and tolerance, the other is serving a ten-year prison sentence
, and the very reason for his incarceration is the Saudi government’s intolerance for the blog he maintained.
When United Arab Emirates Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Arab Social Media Awards in June 2014 to celebrate and promote the use of social media in the region, Badawi had already been in jail in Saudi Arabia for two years on multiple charges, including “founding a liberal website” and “insulting Islam.”
“We want this prize to add real value to existing efforts to develop all channels and sectors of the Arab media. By honoring online influencers, we stress the great value that an innovative and effective social media presence can bring,” said
Sheikh Mohammed at the time.
The awards were presented at the first-ever Arab Social Media Influencers Summit
on March 17-18, 2015, attended by over 15,000 social media influencers, enthusiasts and professionals alike. Among those invited to speak were Brandon Stanton, author of the blog “Humans of New York,” and Chris Messina, inventor of the Hashtag. The “Humans of New York” blog has over 12 million followers on Facebook, and Messina has a following of more than 73,800 people on Twitter.
Photo by Ayman Itani and reused here with Creative Commons license.
Prominent Arab online influencers, including Ali Jaber, director of MBC Group and Dean of the Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Communication, and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, an independent journalist and former host of HuffPost Live, also spoke at the summit.
Raif Badawi too is considered an online influencer, as his 40,000 Twitter followers would surely agree. His website, now closed down, was set up to promote debate about religion
in the Saudi kingdom, where freedom of expression is not guaranteed in the constitution. Badawi’s sentence also included 1000 lashes, to be given over 20 weeks. He received the first 50 lashes on January 9, 2015, and since then his case has received an outpouring of international support
, as governments and organizations around the world, including Amnesty International, have called for his release.
Not just a Saudi problem
Many others across the Arab world, and more specifically the Gulf States, have been targeted and harassed for their online dissent. Some, like Badawi, have been jailed, and some have had their citizenships revoked
Since November 2012, when UAE president Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued a vaguely worded cybercrimes decree
, at least six people in the Emirates have been sent to prison for comments made on Twitter
In Bahrain, where the government has been attempting to smother an uprising demanding reforms since 2011, protesters turned to Twitter en masse to express dissent — but it wasn’t long before the authorities caught up with the
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