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Saudi Arabia overturns Skype ban amid broader social media clampdown

Saudi Arabia banned the use of voice calling apps in 2013 [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 September, 2017

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Potential economic gains soften Saudi authorities' stance on voice calling apps, while a broader clampdown on free social media use continues.

Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on voice calling apps, including Whatsapp and Skype, in an attempt to boost economic growth.

The kingdom's ministry of communications on Wednesday described the decision as "an important step in the kingdom's internet regulation" that will "reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship".

Voice calling apps were banned in Saudi Arabia in 2013, when  the government said it was acting to "protect society from any negative aspects that could harm the public interest".

Despite now repealing the 2013 decision, the kingdom maintains close surveillence on communications that has intensified since the 'Arab Spring' uprisings of 2011.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders described Saudi Arabia in 2014 as a "prime centre of content blocking" and said the country's authorities "claim to have blocked some 400,000 sites".

Wednesday's announcement by Saudi authorities comes just days after picture sharing app Snapchat blocked Al Jazeera content in the conservative kingdom.

The Doha-based news network is currently banned in Saudi Arabia, which is locked in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar.

Riyadh accuses Doha of supporting international terrorism and previously demanded that Qatar shutter a number of Doha-based media outlets in order to resolve the crisis.

Qatar has vehemently rejected the accusation and demands.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia also arrested at least 20 public figures in a crackdown on dissent related to the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Among those being detained is Salman al-Awdah, a Muslim cleric with a Twitter following of over 14 million.

Just days before his arrest, the popular religious leader posted tweet in which he welcomed reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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