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If you keep saying Saudi Arabia is like ISIS, you might get sued

In this undated photo posted on the Instagram account of Ashraf Fayadh, the Palestinian artist poses for a picture. (Instagram account of Ashraf Fayadh via AP)
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Authorities in Saudi Arabia have long been annoyed that everyone keeps suggesting they are anything like the Islamic State. Sure, they say, perhaps some of the laws on the books may look similar to the punishments in the extremist organization, but the Saudi kingdom is a sovereign state that abides by the rule of law and uses these punishments with discretion.

Now, reports in the Saudi press suggest that authorities have a new tactic for those who compare them to the Islamic State: taking them to court. According to a report in pro-government newspaper Al Riyadh, the Saudi justice ministry is planning to sue a Twitter user who suggested that a death sentence recently handed out to a Palestinian artist for apostasy was "ISIS-like."

"Questioning the fairness of the courts is to question the justice of the Kingdom and its judicial system based on Islamic law, which guarantees rights and ensures human dignity," a source in the justice ministry told the newspaper, according to a translation by Reuters. The ministry would not hesitate to sue "any media that slandered the religious judiciary of the Kingdom," the source added.

It is unclear who the Twitter user in question is, though his or her comments would have referred to the case of Ashraf Fayadh. According to Human Rights Watch, documents show that Fayadh was investigated for blasphemy, spreading atheism and having an illicit relationship with women, based on pictures found on his phone. After initially being sentenced to 800 lashes and four years in prison, he was retried and on Nov. 17 was sentenced to death.

Fayadh's case is just the latest Saudi punishment to draw international condemnation. There have been some signs that the Saudi kingdom has been willing to halt or even cancel punishments that draw significant condemnation. Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer and dissident who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blasphemy last year, has only had 50 of those lashes administered since he became an international cause celebre, though he remains in prison.

However, the comparison to the Islamic State appears to be a particular bone of contention for the Saudi kingdom. Speaking to NBC News earlier this year, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki justified the use of capital punishments such as beheadings in the kingdom by saying the country's Shariah-based legal system ensures fairness. "ISIS has no legitimate way to decide to decide to kill people," Al-Turki said, adding that "the difference is clear."

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