It feels like so long ago now, what with all the insanity we are confronted with on a day-to-day basis, but back in October of last year, I wrote about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia promising a return to "moderate Islam" in his country. Given that just six months before, in April 2017, I wrote about a man being sentenced to death for atheism in Saudi Arabia, it is not all that surprising that many of us had some doubts.
Well, here we are nearly a year later and what do we find? For starters, just a few weeks ago there were headlines about a woman who is facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for participating in, and documenting, anti-government protests. Israa al-Ghomgham is her name and she is a known activist for Shia Muslim rights. She and the others accused along with her, including her husband, are not accused of any violence. That is what so concerns those like the Human Rights Watch about these charges. They face beheading for non-violent protests against the government over the rights of a religious minority (Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni Muslim, versus the Shia Muslims that al-Ghomgham was advocating for).
Now, in the latest news about Saudi Arabia, reports tell of prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to three million riyals ($800,000) for online satire.
What exactly was said, you might be asking? Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor tweeted on Tuesday that, “Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media...will be considered a cyber-crime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals."
The crown prince and the rest of the Saudi Arabian government are towing a very narrow line here. Sure, they lifted the ban on women driving cars, but then women who peacefully protest for real equality between all the various groups within Saudi Arabia are subjected to death sentences.
More than that, there was recent outcry at the defamation of activists in Saudi Arabia who advocated for women's rights. The media outlets responsible for the derogatory reporting on those activists happened to have close ties to the Saudi Arabian government. For example, the Saudi Press Agency reported that those who were arrested had breached "social structure" and marred "the national consistency."
That is what they were guilty of? Marring the national consistency?
This is theocracy in action. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, but in 1992 the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia was adopted which mandated that even the monarchy abide by Sharia and the Quran.
Make no mistake, this is the ludicrous and tragically needless violent result of religious governance, and it absolutely must be opposed.