At least 15 Saudi journalists and bloggers have been arrested over the past year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said earlier this month, following the disappearance of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi. RSF is a non-governmental group based in Paris, France, that conducts political advocacy on issues relating to freedom of information and freedom of the press.
“In most cases, their arrests have never been officially confirmed and no official has ever said where they are being held or what they are charged with,” RSF said in a statement.
Cases include Saleh al-Shihi, a journalist whose arrest was only confirmed in February when his family learned he had been sentenced to five years in prison, RSF said. He disappeared in December last year, but his detention was not revealed until his conviction and sentence were announced in the kingdom.
Economist and citizen-journalist Essam al-Zamel was put on trial this month for criticising the government’s economic strategy in a series of tweets and reports. It was only then that it was officially confirmed that he has been in jail for the past year.
Another journalist and commentator, Turad al-Amri, has been missing since November 2016 after protesting in a tweet to a clampdown on Saudi media, including the blocking of an online newspaper for which he had written.
Fayez bin Damakh, a reporter and poet, has been missing since September last year when he was about to launch a news channel in Kuwait. Local reports suggested he was abducted and taken to Saudi Arabia, though this has never been confirmed.
A total of 25 to 30 professional and non-professional journalists are currently believed to be detained in Saudi Arabia, which is ranked 169 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the organisation said.
US President Donald Trump, in his strongest remarks so far, said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bears ultimate responsibility, as effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, for the operation that led to the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, indicating the prince is “running things over there” in Riyadh.
Last Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to believe the prince’s claim that lower level officials were to blame for the October 2 killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but suggested responsibility lay higher up.
Asked about Prince Mohammed’s possible involvement, Trump said: “Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.” Trump said he was convinced King Salman, the father of Prince Mohammed, had no advance knowledge of the incident.
Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist critical of the crown prince, went to the Saudi consulate on September 28 seeking documents so he could be married to his Turkish fiancée. He was told to return to the consulate on October 2 to pick up those documents. CCTV shows Khashoggi walking into the consulate at 1.14pm on October 2. A little less than two hours later, CCTV shows several vehicles with diplomatic licence plates move from the consulate to the consul’s home. No footage made public so far has shown Khashoggi walk out of the consulate.
Khashoggi’s disappearance has tipped Saudi Arabia into one of its worst international crises, with Turkish officials accusing it of carrying out a state-sponsored killing and dismembering the body.
Earlier last Tuesday, Trump said that Saudi authorities had staged the “worst cover-up ever” over the incident, and they had handled the matter badly.
The brutal death of Khashoggi has sparked global outrage and threatened relations between Riyadh and Washington, as well as other Western nations. Khashoggi’s death has piled more pressure on Theresa May’s government in Britain to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been waging a three-year bombing campaign in Yemen. Asked whether she will follow Germany and suspend arms sales to Riyadh, May insisted Britain’s defence export controls were “among the strictest in the world” and the Saudi arms sales policy was “under review”.
British media have reported that Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, the man named by Turkish media as the leader of the operation to kill Khashoggi, used to work at the Saudi embassy in London. Turkey, which is investigating the killing, has dismissed Saudi efforts to blame rogue operatives, and has promised to hold those behind Khashoggi’s death responsible.
Why has the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi sparked a global outcry?
Why would Donald Trump want to believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no hand in the killing?