Biden urged to press for release of journalists during Saudi visit
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on US President Joe Biden to advocate firmly – and successfully – for the release of the 28 journalists detained arbitrarily in Saudi Arabia when he visits this Gulf nation and meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely suspected of ordering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
Biden will meet with both the crown prince and King Salman in Saudi Arabia, where he is due to arrive on 15 July for the next leg of his Middle East tour after visiting Israel and Palestine. On 9 July, he published an op-ed about the goals of this visit in the Washington Post, the US daily for which Khashoggi wrote regularly when he lived in Turkey and ended up being murdered during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
“This visit to Saudi Arabia may be the final opportunity to make it clear to Mohamed bin Salman that the US means what it says when it comes to press freedom, and to call for long-overdue reforms. We urge President Biden to raise as a matter of urgent priority with MBS the need to grant Raif Badawi safe passage from the country, to release the 28 currently jailed journalists, and to ensure justice for Jamal Khashoggi without further delay. It’s crucial for the legitimacy of the US on press freedom that Biden gets concrete results during his visit,”, said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” Biden said in his op-ed.” My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”
A few week after taking office as president, Biden declassified a CIA report about Khashoggi’s death that incriminated MBS. “We assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report said.
Until recently, the blogger Raif Badawi was one of the journalists and bloggers detained arbitrarily in the kingdom, who currently number at least 28. Released in March after serving a ten-year prison sentence for “insulting Islam,” Badawi is now banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for another ten years.
In his op-ed, Biden also wrote: “We also advocated for American citizens who had been wrongfully detained in Saudi Arabia long before I took office. They have since been released, and I will continue to push for restrictions on their travel to be lifted.”
Badawi is not a US citizen but Bader Al-Ibrahim, a Saudi-American journalist and writer, and epidemiologist by training, is concerned by this comment. He was released on bail in February 2021 after being jailed in April 2019, but he cannot travel abroad and terrorism charges are still pending against him.