Seven Saudi social media activists jailed

Seven men have been jailed in Saudi Arabia for using Facebook and other social media to encourage anti-government protests

Seven men have been jailed in Saudi Arabia for using Facebook and other social media to encourage anti-government protests.

The men were handed prison terms ranging from five to 10 years and issued with travel bans for additional periods in the country’s latest crackdown on online political dissent, according to the BBC.

The ruling follows several recent arrests of Saudi human rights campaigners, including two women for allegedly inciting a woman against her husband.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the men were arrested last September and were put on trial at an anti-terrorism court in April.

The court handed down the longest sentence to an activist accused of setting up two Facebook groups that detailed the best protest techniques.

HRW said all the men had admitted contributing to Facebook pages supporting Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Amer, who was held in February 2011 after calling for a constitutional monarchy.

However, several of the men said they had been tortured into signing confessions, according to HRW.

HRW has called on European Union (EU) officials to condemn the latest convictions.

"Sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there's no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director.

Innovative use of technology and social media also played a significant role in co-ordinating anti-government protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

Last month Turkish anti-government protesters began making use of a mix of social media services accessed through public and private networks to stay one step ahead of authorities.

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