Saturday, February 9, 2019

Down With Satire!

I'm sure glad I don't live in Saudi Arabia. That's true for a lot of reasons. But today it's because back in September the country decided to criminalize online satire of religious values. I mean, I'm sure that if I lived there the anti-witchcraft squad would come for me long before the online satire police, but still. I do a lot of pointing and laughing at silly religious folks here on Augoeides and in Saudi Arabia I probably am breaking the law.

“Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media...will be considered a cybercrime punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of three million riyals ($800,000),” the tweet said.

The country’s cyber crackdown has raised concerns among human rights groups, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—son and heir to the elderly King Salman and considered the power behind the throne—seeks to maintain the crown's tight control of society.

The government has used broad anti-terror legislation to prosecute dozens of citizens for their online activities, much of it on social media platforms like Twitter. In September 2017, the government asked Saudis to report any social media behavior “harming the state's reputation.”

Authorities even repurposed an app—launched in 2016 to help civilians report traffic violations and burglaries—to make it easier for Saudis to report each other. Announcing the new initiative, the interior ministry tweeted: “When you notice any account on social networks publishing terrorist or extremist ideas, please report it immediately via the application.”

As if satire and terrorism are the same thing. Am I a terrorist because I'm funny? Obviously I don't think so. But the truth is that Saudi Arabia is a pretty messed-up place, with all kinds of ridiculous civil liberty restrictions including this one. Since the article is months old I have no idea how many people may have been charged under this new law, but even if nobody has it's still a problem. Laws like this let the police criminalize dissent, which at this point should be allowed in any modern nation.

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