SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Saudi Arabian communications regulator plans to link national Twitter bloggers to personal social media user IDs, local media has reported. There are no technical or legal restrictions to the move, but Twitter's official approval is needed.
The Saudi Arabian Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) studies ways to uncover social media users' real identities, according to a Friday report in daily newspaper Arab News Country’s Twitter microbloggers are top-priority candidates to get tokenized.
This could easily be accomplished by monitoring users who access Twitter from mobile phones, by requiring them to register an ID when they add money to their phone accounts.
“The linking of Twitter registration inside the Kingdom with the ID number of a user could be implemented if Saudi Arabia seriously wants it,” Saudi telecommunication technology expert Waleed Al-Khalil told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat Arabic international newspaper. However, Al-Khalil stressed that such measures cannot be introduced without a general agreement between the CITC and Twitter's administration.
This is not the first time the country’s authorities have announced plans to place citizens’ Internet activities under governmental supervision.
The CITC is reportedly in talks to monitor communications on Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber. If no deal is reached, Riyadh has threatened to block the services altogether, according to Al Arabiya.
The agency may impose sanctions under the authority of the Saudi Arabian government, and violations of CITC regulations are punishable in criminal court.
“For instance, CITC recently canceled free international roaming service offered by some companies without its permission by strictly enforcing penal measures,” Al-Khalil said, adding that he fully supports the idea of government supervision of Twitter users.
Riyadh's concerns over ‘Twitter power’ are not groundless: The Arab Spring uprisings showed how social networks – especially Twitter – could be used to successfully organize young opposition activists to protest against ruling regimes.
The number of Saudi Arabian Twitter users is booming. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of Twitter users in the Kingdom grew by 3,000 percent, Al-Arabiya estimated. Saudi Arabian Twitter users post an average of 50 million messages monthly, most of them in Arabic.
A week ago, Saudi Arabia's top religious cleric Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik publicly railed against Twitter, calling the social media website “a council of clowns.” Twitter is a place where people “unleash unjust, incorrect and wrong tweets,” Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik said in a speech to other Saudi clerics.
But Riyadh's concerns over Twitter are likely exaggerated, as two of the most influential Twitter users in Saudi Arabia are Muslim preachers, not opposition activists. Sheikh Mohamad al-Arefe has more than 4.3 million worldwide followers, while Sheikh Ayed al-Qarnee has over 2.8 million – sizable followings in a nation of 25 million people.
Twitter's administration will have to confront the issue soon, as the Saudi Arabian market is extremely attractive to the corporation. In July 2012, Twitter Executive Director Dick Costolo acknowledged that Twitter is the sixth most-browsed website in Saudi Arabia, and that the number of Twitter users is rapidly growing.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia for its ultraconservative religious law and limited personal freedoms.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Saudi Arabian government has threatened to ban the use of instant messaging applications because of failure to control them, Saudi media reveal. It comes a month after the minister for media and culture confirmed censorship of Twitter.
“The Communications and Information Technology Commission has requested companies operating the applications to meet the regulatory requirements to avoid their suspension in the kingdom,” sources told Saudi news site Sabq.
“The commission is now coordinating with the application operators on the issue,” they said.
Companies were given one week to deal with the situation and decide upon the required technical measures.
The sources stressed that the procedure was “in accordance with regulatory procedures,” denying claims that attributed the decision to commercial motivations.
Messaging applications such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber are at risk of being banned, Al Arabiya reported.
It’s the latest move by the ultra-conservative Gulf Kingdom, whose government recently admitted censorship of Twitter.
Just last month, Saudi Arabian Minister for Media and Culture Abdel Aziz Khoga called on citizens to “raise their awareness” and contribute to the censorship taken up by the ministry.
“People have to take care of what they are writing on Twitter,” the minister said.
“It’s getting harder to observe around three million people subscribing to the social network in the kingdom,” he added.
The government’s censorship of the social media application led to the December arrest of Turki al-Hamad, a liberal Saudi writer accused of “insulting Islam” on his Twitter account.
Hamad was arrested on the orders of Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef Bin Abdel Aziz, who was tipped off by a religious organization.
In 2010, Saudi Arabia banned the use of Blackberry phones to send and receive messages, citing concerns that the communications were encrypted and could not be monitored, therefore hindering the country’s efforts to fight terrorism and crime.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- One of seven Saudis due to be put to death on Tuesday by crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery, speaking over a smuggled mobile phone from his prison cell, has appealed for help to stop the executions.
Nasser al-Qahtani told Associated Press from Abha general prison on Monday that he was arrested as part of 23-member ring that stole from jewellery stores in 2004 and 2005. He said they had been tortured to confess and had no access to lawyers.
"I killed no one. I didn't have weapons while robbing the store, but the police tortured me, beat me up and threatened to assault my mother to extract confessions that I had a weapon with me while I was only 15," he said. "We don't deserve death."
A leading human rights group added its appeal to Saudi authorities to stop the executions.
Qahtani, 24, said he and most of the ring were juveniles at the time of the thefts. They were arrested in 2006. The seven received death sentences in 2009, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.
Last Saturday, Qahtani said, Saudi King Abdullah ratified the death sentences and sent them to Abha. Authorities set Tuesday for the executions. They also determined the methods.
The main defendant, Sarhan al-Mashayeh, will be crucified for three days. The others will face firing squads.
Qahtani faced a judge three times during eight years in detention. He said the judge did not assign a lawyer to defend them and did not listen to complaints of torture.
"We showed him the marks of torture and beating, but he didn't listen," he said. "I am talking to you now and my relatives are telling me that the soil is prepared for our executions tomorrow," he said.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law under which people convicted of murder, rape or armed robbery can be executed, usually by sword.
Several people were reported to have been crucified in Saudi Arabia last year. Human rights groups have condemned crucifixions in the past, including cases in which people are beheaded and then crucified. In 2009, Amnesty International condemned such an execution as "the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment".
Abha is located deep in the south-western province of Asir. Southerners face systematic discrimination and people there are perceived as second-class citizens compared with those in the most powerful central region, where the capital and Saudi Arabia's holy shrines of Mecca and Medina are located. Political analyst Mohammed al-Qahtani said the central region gets the best services and treatment.
"The verdict is very harsh, given all the circumstances of detention and trial with no access to lawyers, but part of the problem is selectivity," he said. "If one person belonged to political heavyweight regions, the verdict wouldn't have been harsh," he added. "The south is marginalised."
He said no minister in the Saudi government, current or past, came from the south. He said he was born in the south, did not know the family of the man who talked to AP, but was familiar with the case.
The Washington-based Institute of Gulf Affairs, which is campaigning for suspension of the executions, said in a statement addressed to the UN high commissioner for human rights, that "among the reasons for the execution is that they hail from the south, a region that is heavily marginalised by the Saudi monarchy, which views them as lower class citizens".
Ali Al-Ahmed, the head of the institute, said that in Saudi Arabia, people refer to the south as "07, which is derogatory, since it refers to the last area code phone number" in the kingdom.
"The south is very poor, and that is why rebellion comes from there," he said, "and this is why sentences are harsh, because Saudi authorities want to scare them."
Human Rights Watch in a statement on Monday appealed to Abdullah to halt the executions. It said there was "strong evidence" that the trials of all seven men violated basic principles of rights to a fair trial.
"It will be outrageous if the Saudi authorities go ahead with these executions," said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It is high time for the Saudis to stop executing child offenders and start observing their obligations under international human rights law."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –The Yemen-based offshoot of Al Qaeda urged Muslims to sacrifice themselves and their money to help fend off what it called the "Crusader war" in Mali, according to a statement posted online on Tuesday.
France intervened in Mali last month to check a push south towards the capital Bamako by Islamist forces who seized control of the north of the country in the confusion that followed a military coup in March 2012.
Their surprise advance pushed Mali to the forefront of U.S. and European security concerns, with fears the Islamists would turn the country into a base for international attacks.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) compared the French intervention to what it called the "Zionist occupation of Palestine".
The group said supporting Muslims in Mali was "a duty for every able Muslim, to offer himself or his money, each according to his ability."
Formed in 2009, AQAP has carried suicide attacks on Yemeni government installations and military targets in Yemen. It was also behind a December 2009 plot to blow up a US airliner as it approached Detroit and a 2010 plan to send bombs hidden in computer printers on two cargo aircraft.
Former CIA director David Petraeus has described AQAP as the "most dangerous regional node in the global jihad".
The Mali offensive by French troops, which began last month, has pushed Islamist insurgents out of their strongholds in the north. But the militants launched a surprise raid in the heart of the Malian town of Gao on Sunday.
The brazenness of the rebel raid, which followed successive blasts by two suicide bombers at a northern checkpoint, was a surprise to the French-led military operation, which had so far faced little real resistance from the Islamists.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Saudi Arabia will give the Palestinian government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank $100m to help alleviate a worsening budget crisis, the Palestinian president's office has said.
"The state's budget is facing a large deficit as a result of the docking of Palestinian money by the Israeli government as a punitive step after the UN recognition of Palestine as an observer state," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement on Thursday.
Abbas has struggled to convince Arab countries to deliver a $100m monthly "safety net" they promised when he secured de facto UN recognition of a Palestinian state in November, prompting Israeli sanctions.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian government has been hard-pressed to pay more than $300m in monthly expenditures since Israel announced it would confiscate $100m it collects in customs taxes on their behalf each month.
Full salaries for public sector workers have not been paid in almost three months and government initiatives to increase revenue by collecting years worth of electricity and water bills from the public have been hampered by street protests.
The Saudi aid will make little progress toward lowering the government's debt of more than $1.3bn to Palestinian banks and hundred of millions of dollars in unpaid contracts to the private sector.
Amid a downturn in its construction and manufacturing sectors and with its economic prospects hamstrung by Israeli restrictions, the West Bank government has been deeply dependent on foreign aid to pay its bills.
A high of $1.8bn in foreign aid in 2008 plunged to $600m last year, with Gulf countries scaling back their giving because of increased domestic spending over two years of Arab political uprisings and the global financial downturn.
An earlier $100m gift from Saudi Arabia last July and donations from Iraq, Algeria and other Arab countries provided much of the Palestinians' foreign aid in 2012.
On Wednesday, the European Union announced some $133m in annual assistance to the Palestinians and UN aid agencies servicing Palestinian refugees, in line with previous years.
The United States continues to withhold $200m in budgetary assistance, around half the aid it delivered to the Palestinians in 2012, amid Congressional objections to their bid for statehood.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Saudi Arabia has criticised world reaction to its beheading of a Sri Lankan maid convicted of killing her employer's baby, the official Saudi news agency SPA reported.
Riyadh "deplores the statements made... over the execution of a Sri Lankan maid who had plotted and killed an infant by suffocating him to death, one week after she arrived in the kingdom", the government spokesman said.
Rizana Nafeek was beheaded on Wednesday in a case that sparked widespread international condemnation, including from rights groups that said she was just 17 when she was charged with murdering the baby in 2005.
Nafeek was found guilty of smothering the infant after an argument with the child's mother.
The case soured diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka which on Thursday recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia in protest.
The government spokesman condemned what he called "wrong information on the case", and denied that the maid was a minor when she committed the crime.
"As per her passport, she was 21-years-old when she committed the crime," he said, adding that "the kingdom does not allow minors to be brought as workers".
He said authorities had tried hard to convince the baby's family to accept "blood money", but they rejected any amnesty and insisted that the maid be executed.
Saudi Arabia "respects ... all rules and laws and protects the rights of its people and residents, and completely rejects any intervention in its affairs and judicial verdicts, whatever the excuse", the spokesman said.
The UN's human rights body on Friday expressed "deep dismay" at the beheading, and the European Union said it had asked the Saudi authorities to commute the death penalty.
Human Rights Watch said Nafeek had retracted "a confession" that she said was made under duress. She said the baby accidentally choked to death while drinking from a bottle.
Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia's strict version of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Last year the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom beheaded 76 people, according to an AFP news agency tally based on official figures, while Human Rights Watch put the number at 69.
So far in 2013, three people have been executed.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz attending a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Bahrain Monday expressed the kingdom’s hope for the declaration of a Gulf union.
“We aspire to a strong union with integrated economies, a joint foreign policy and a common defense system,” Prince Salman said.
Meanwhile, King Hamad of host country Bahrain called for the GCC to provide “a security umbrella for its peoples” and urged “economic complementarity” between its six member states.
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait’s emir, called for humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians and urged Iran to reach a peaceful settlement with neighbors, including over three Gulf islands in dispute with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
He announced a donor conference for civilians caught up in the Syrian conflict to be held at the end of January at the request of the United Nations.
The two-day summit is to focus on strengthening “Gulf unity... especially politically, economically, in defense, security and culturally,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa had said.
Last week, Bahrain said an announcement over a union of the six member states would not be made at the summit.
A Gulf union would supersede the existing GCC and bring member states even closer.
In November, the six Gulf states recognized a newly-formed opposition bloc as the Syrian people's legitimate representative.
The GCC members -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- were the first to recognize the opposition coalition.
"The states of the council announce recognizing the National Coalition... as the legitimate representative of the brotherly Syrian people," GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani said.
He said the oil-rich bloc would support the coalition in the hope that "this will be a step towards a quick political transfer of power."- www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Saudi Arabia’s trade minister has unveiled the first “made in KSA” truck during a ceremony in the kingdom’s eastern city of Dammam.
Tawfiq al-Rabee'a, the trade and industry minister and the director general of the Saudi Industrial Property Authority “Modon,” drove the truck, the International Isuzu company’s first product inside the kingdom.
Foreign diplomats, government officials, executives and prominent businessmen attended at the inauguration.
“I feel very happy and proud to have driven today a vehicle that is made in Saudi Arabia,” al-Rabee’a said in statements to al-Riyadh Newspaper.
“It is a part of the dream about the kingdom’s industrialization, and this step will lead to the achievement of that dream,” he added.
“The rate of the industrial growth has doubled in the last 15 years due to our hard work on enhancing the highly-valued industries. This process doubles the cost range of items and metal to nearly 40-times after their conversion into a real car,” al-Rabee’a said.
The Isuzu plant is mostly staffed by young Saudi engineers and technician who have studied in Japan under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and who returned to the kingdom to help develop industrial infrastructure.
Al-Rabee’a pointed out that the setup of these manufacturing plants will create 4,000 job opportunities for young Saudis in Riyadh and 800 in Dammam. He added that Saudi Arabia has signed a deal with the British Land Rover company, to establish a manufacturing plant in Yanbu.
Al-Rabee’a said the government aims to diversify its sources of income and that investing in the industry was a strategic choice for sustainable development and creating new job opportunities for the citizens.
The Kingdom was able to attract specialized international projects to the industrial cities across the Kingdom in order to create a strong industrial base that will contribute to boosting the economic growth. www.shfaqna.com/English