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A top Saudi Arabia official has suggested that using Twitter, which reportedly is growing in popularity in the western Asian country, is leading people to "lose their afterlife."
BBC News reported that Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, head of Saudi Arabia's religious police, warned that anyone using Twitter and other social media sites "has lost this world and his afterlife."
Saudi Arabia, a Muslim-dominated country, has been designated by persecution watchdog Open Doors USA as one of the most oppressive countries in the world where personal and religious freedoms are limited. BBC noted that platforms like Twitter have provided citizens with a mode of expression that was previously unavailable, and the conservative kingdom has seen a very fast increase of social media users in recent years.
"The Kingdom is particularly concerned with how Twitter has been used to keep people informed of human rights activists who have been tried for the crime of free speech," said Jonathan Turley, professor of law at The George Washington University Law School. "Leaders on the web have been detained while others have been charged with apostasy and other crimes for statements made on these sites."
Al-Sheikh's comments reflect those of the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, who in April warned millions of Saudis watching on TV that Twitter is a threat to national unity, and can be used to spread the ideas of rival political groups.
The current Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's most senior Muslim cleric, has also called Twitter users "fools" and "clowns."
One prominent Saudi businessman, billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, however, has argued that attempts to restrict Twitter and social media are a "losing battle."
A NY Times article in April suggested that the Saudi officials' concern over Twitter stems from the freedom it provides people to share news of government crackdowns on protests, which expose police brutality and oppression.
"As the government remains confounded by its inability to control online dissent, there is no doubt that the rising tide of anger across Saudi cyberspace has begun to spill over into physical reality," the article notes.