Saudi authorities arrested the men between September 23 and 26, 2011, then detained them in the General Investigations Prison in Damman for a year and a half before charging them and putting them on trial on April 29. They were tried before the Specialized Criminal Court, set up in 2008 to deal with terrorism-related cases. Authorities did not accuse the seven of directly participating in protests, and the court failed to investigate their allegations that intelligence officers tortured them into signing confessions.
In the court judgment, which Human Rights Watch obtained, the charges against the seven varied. But the court convicted them all of joining Facebook pages to “incite protests, illegal gathering, and breaking allegiance with the king” and of “assisting and encouraging these calls and corresponding with the [Facebook pages’] followers and concealing them.” All seven were also convicted of violating article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which prohibits producing, sending, or storing any material via an information network that “harms public order.”
Abd al-Hamid al-Amer received the longest sentence for founding two Facebook pages
None of the charges accused the seven of using or advocating violence, as the presiding judge confirmed in the judgment, saying, “Breaking allegiance [with the king] comes by way of arms and it comes by way of protests, marches, and writing articles and publications … the behavior of the [second] course … is sometimes the more dangerous and more malicious method.”More details here, including the list of the seven men and their sentences.
The Facebook groups that prosecutors cited, including the “al-Ahsa March 4 Youth Movement” and “The Free Men of al-Ahsa,” arose in early 2011 after the authorities arrested Tawfiq al-Amer, a prominent Shia sheikh and religious leader in the al-Ahsa region of Eastern Province who had publicly called for a constitutional monarchy. His arrest provoked widespread protests and the authorities arrested dozens of his supporters in al-Ahsa in March 2011. The same court sentenced the sheikh to four years in prison in April 2013 and banned him from writing and public speaking.
The seven men all admitted to participating in the Facebook pages in support of al-Amer, but told the court they were unaware that it was a crime. They denied having any intention to break allegiance with the king or harm public order.