RIYADH Three Saudi Arabian men have been charged over comments they made on Twitter, the first such cases since a decree imposed long jail terms for supporting extremist groups, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The three have been accused of sedition, incitement and breaching obedience to the king, the newspaper al-Eqtisadiah reported on its website.
It said the men were the first to be charged under the terms of a February royal decree, which set out prison sentences for anybody who went abroad to fight, incited others to do so, or gave material or moral support to extremist groups.
Saudi Arabia has clamped down on public dissent since the 2011 Arab uprisings, which led to a wave of political turmoil in some of its neighbours, analysts and international human rights activists say.
However, many Saudis have used social media to complain about issues ranging from unemployment, corruption, low wages, a lack of housing and the disparity they perceive between normal people and the elite.
Three young men were detained in recent days for posting online films complaining about living standards and attacking the ruling family, said an activist who spoke with members of their families.
The men, all members of renowned Saudi tribes, each displayed their identity cards to the camera after accusing the government of failing to provide adequate services and allowing corruption and a growing wealth gap between rich and poor.
The first video appeared on YouTube last week, accredited to Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Dossari. He used it to complain about his salary.
"It's not enough," he said. "Then you blame the ones who blow things up."
The authorities sometimes interpret such references to militant acts as a threat.
A government spokesman said he would look into the report that the three had been detained.
The three films each gained around 1.5 million views on YouTube. They prompted several imitators who criticised the authorities for detaining the three while showing their identity cards to camera.
One of them, Abdulrahman al-Assiri, also attacked the al-Saud ruling family's legitimacy and its religious credentials, two things seen as particularly sensitive in the birthplace of Islam.
"The problem is you, al-Saud," he said. "You stole our name and country and named it for yourself. What right do you have? You stole our Islam. It became Saudi Islam.
"You will see a revolution if you don't act properly," he said in another comment that may have been interpreted by the authorities as a direct threat.
All protests and political parties are banned in Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall and Reuters Gulf team; editing by Sami Aboudi, Larry King)