Saudi Arabia's snitching app turns citizens into social media police

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Beirut – A Saudi app that lets ordinary people "play the role of a police officer" may have alerted authorities to a student's tweet whose 34-year prison sentence has drawn international condemnation.

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Just weeks after the verdict against Salma al-Shahab, a doctoral candidate at the University of Leeds in britain, rights groups say another woman was sentenced to 45 years for her social media posts.

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According to Washington-based human rights group DAWN, Naurah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was convicted of "using the internet to tear apart the (Saudi) social fabric".

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While it is unclear how Qahtani's positions were traced, rights groups believe shahab was reported by citizens using Colonna Amn, a government app that lets citizens alert authorities everyday.

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"I went to your account, and I found it pathetic and full of garbage, I took several pictures and I sent them to Colonna Aman," a user posted below a comment from Shehab, a screenshot reviewed.

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Colonna Amn, which means "we are all security" in Arabic, has been downloaded more than a million times from the Google Play Store.

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Despite billing itself as a utility app to speed up the "rescue mission,"rights campaigners say it helps authorities cast a wider net for activists and dissidents seen as a threat to the Saudi government.

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"The problem in Saudi Arabia is that their understanding of crime is much broader than is recognisable under international law," said Rothna Begum, a women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). "

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The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information could not be reached for comment, but officials have previously said the country does not have political prisoners.

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