Journalists in Saudi Arabia by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Journalists in Saudi Arabia


While the world comes to terms with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, fears increase for the safety of other writers and journalists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The country’s appalling human rights record and suppression of free speech are well documented. Human rights defenders and writers are routinely arrested. 

Fahad al-Fahad, a well-known Saudi activist who has written about the abuse of civil and political rights in the kingdom, has been in prison since 6 April 2016 on charges related to his writing. In June 2017, the Specialised Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s ‘terrorism tribunal’, sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment and a ten-year travel ban. Al-Fahad is also prohibited from continuing his writing and media work, reportedly for life. The charges against al-Fahad include ‘violating the Saudi cybercrime law via tweets criticising the Saudi criminal justice system and government corruption’ and ‘inciting hostility against the state, its structure, and its justice systems’.

Raef Badawi (LR, July 2014), who founded an online blog, FreeSaudiLiberals, is also serving a long prison sentence. He was arrested in June 2012 on charges of atheism because his writings questioned the kingdom’s religious establishment. He was sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes. Due to medical concerns, he has only received fifty lashes so far. However, he remains at risk of further floggings at any time.

Another Saudi writer, Nadhir al-Majid, was found guilty of ‘writing articles supporting protests’, ‘failing to obey the ruler’, ‘contact with foreign news agencies’ and ‘participating in demonstrations’ on 18 January 2017. He was sentenced to seven years in prison as well as a seven-year travel ban and a fine of 100,000 riyals (approximately £20,000). He was initially held in solitary confinement in the al-Ha’ir high-security prison, before being transferred to al-Damam prison on 24 February. His sentence was upheld by the Riyadh Court of Appeal on 4 June 2017. This judgement is final and he has no right to further appeal. Al-Majid had previously been detained from 13 April 2011 until 27 June 2012, without facing charges or trial, for an article he wrote entitled ‘I protest, I am a human being’, in which he supported the right to protest and free assembly. He claimed he was tortured during this spell in prison and placed in solitary confinement for five months.

On 9 October, lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair, who is currently serving a fifteen-year prison sentence in a Saudi jail, was named International Writer of Courage at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony in London. A founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Abulkhair has written over three hundred newspaper articles, including for the Washington Post, and has represented fellow activists and writers, among them Badawi, in court. In February 2014, Saudi Arabia passed a new anti-terrorism law, using a vague definition of terrorism to crack down on free speech. Abulkhair was the first human rights activist to be tried and convicted under the law. On 6 July 2014, the Specialised Criminal Court sentenced him to fifteen years in prison (five of them suspended), a fifteen-year ban on travel abroad and a fine of 200,000 riyals on charges of ‘striving to overthrow the state and the authority of the king’, ‘criticising and insulting the judiciary’, ‘assembling international organisations against the kingdom’ and ‘inciting public opinion’.

Khashoggi, who has suffered the ultimate form of censorship, left Saudi Arabia in September 2017, just months after Mohammed bin Salman was named crown prince. After fleeing his native country, Khashoggi published articles criticising the ‘wave of arrests’ of intellectuals and peaceful activists who had expressed opinions contrary to those of the Saudi government. He disappeared on 2 October 2018 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Some three weeks later, the Saudi authorities admitted he had been murdered there. Unconfirmed reports suggest that he was tortured and that his body was dismembered in the building. PEN believes the murder of Khashoggi is related to his articles critical of the Saudi authorities and has called for an immediate and comprehensive investigation into his death.

Please send appeals calling on the Saudi authorities to release Fahad al-Fahad, Raef Badawi, Nadhir al-Majid, Waleed Abulkhair and all other activists held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, urging the authorities to protect the rights of all individuals to express their views freely, whether as citizens or foreigners, in accordance with international human rights standards, and demanding that the Saudi government ratify, without reservation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Appeals to be addressed to:

HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street
London W1J 5DZ
Email via the website:

His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
Fax: +966 11 403 3125
Twitter: @KingSalman

His Excellency Dr Walid bin Muhammad al-Samaani
Minister of Justice
Fax: +966 11 405 7777
Email: /

His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif
Minister of Interior
Fax: +966 11 403 3125
Twitter: @MOISaudiArabia

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