Saudi tightens grip on Internet use

Saudi Arabia is introducing sweeping new laws for information technology crimes

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By  David Westley Published  January 26, 2008

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun implementing new laws for controlling the use of technology for terrorism, fraud, pornography, defamation, violating religious values and disregarding public etiquette.

The new information technology law contains 16 articles, and provides a maximum penalty of 10 years and a SR5 million fine ($1.3 million) for persons found guilty of running web sites in support of terrorist organisations.

A maximum penalty of three years and a SR500,000 fine ($133,000) will be handed to anyone found guilty of financial or data fraud, or found guilty of attacking the private life of another subject.

The new law also covers the religious and social use of information and communications technology. Those who produce and distribute IT materials that violate public law, religious values and public etiquette will receive up to five years in jail, and a SR3 million fine ($800,000). Those who use information technology to spread and market pornography will face the same punishment.

The new law comes into effect as Saudi Arabia faces the world's attention for its treatment of Saudi blogger Ahmad Fouad Al-Farhan. Al-Farhan was arrested for violating "non-security regulations", and is believed to be the first online critic to be arrested in the kingdom.

Al-Farhan's blog - Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, shoura and all the rest of lost Islamic values - has posted a letter, allegedly from Al-Farhan, which states he believes he was arrested because he "wrote about political prisoners in Saudi Arabia".

According to a Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry source, speaking to Saudi newspaper, Arab News, the new law has been introduced to "combat IT-related crimes that threatens security and safety of human societies".

Punishment will be extended to those who aid those who commit IT crime; while those show that they exhibited intent to commit the crime through their actions, even if the crime didn't take place, will receive up to half the maximum sentence.

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