A Saudi court's decision to sentence fitness influencer Manahel al-Otaibi to 11 years in prison highlights what activists describe as a fierce crackdown on even vaguely critical online speech.

In the past two years the Saudi judiciary has "convicted and handed down lengthy prison terms on dozens of individuals for their expression on social media," the human rights groups Amnesty International and ALQST said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

These cases are generally handled by the Specialized Criminal Court, which was established in 2008 to try suspects accused of terrorism, and Saudi authorities do not often comment on them.