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Saudi Arabia declares online satire punishable offence

© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File | Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been criticised by rights groups over the targeting of activists and political dissidents

RIYADH (AFP) - 

Saudi Arabia will punish online satire that "disrupts public order" with up to five years in prison, the public prosecutor said Tuesday, as the kingdom cracks down on dissent.

"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 public prosecution tweeted late Monday.

The kingdom's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups over the targeting of human rights activists and political dissidents across the spectrum since his appointment in June 2017.

Saudi Arabia's legislation on cybercrime has sparked concern among international rights groups in the past.

Dozens of Saudi citizens have been convicted on charges linked to dissent under a previous sweeping law, particularly linked to posts on Twitter.

In September 2017, authorities issued a public call for citizens to report on the social media activities of their fellow citizens, under a broad definition of "terrorist" crimes.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor on Tuesday also announced it was seeking the death penalty in the case against Sheikh Salman al-Awda, a prominent Islamist cleric arrested last year along with 20 others.

© 2018 AFP