October 24, 2003 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Intimidation campaign tragets opposition and liberal media

Reporters Without Borders called on the Saudi government today to stop its extensive intimidation of the country's media that has included jamming an opposition radio station this week, cutting off TV broadcasts by the same group and making death threats to liberal journalists. The radio station, Al-Islah, run by the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) is the first and only opposition voice broadcasting to the country from abroad. Satellite broadcasts by MIRA's London-based TV station were also cut off in late August after only a few months on the air. "The country's powerful hardline religious leaders are obsessed with crushing dissident opinions and the authorities have been cracking down ruthlessly in recent months on those in the press and elsewhere calling for speedier and more radical reforms than those offered by the government," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. The government has announced unprecedented elections next year for town councils and for the Majlis, the national consultative body. The pro-government media has welcomed this but the entire Saudi media remains under the tight control of the interior and information ministries. About 100 reformist journalists, writers and intellectuals have recently been censored or banned from the country's press, according to US-based Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmad. Journalist Hussein Shobokshi was banned from the daily paper Okaz after writing an article saying he dreamed that one day the Saudi people would have the right to vote freely, discuss human rights and, in the case of women, to drive vehicles. He was also banned from writing in the Arab News and his political programme on the Saudi-funded TV station Al-Arabiya was dropped. A regular column in the daily Al-Hayat by Dawud al-Shirian was stopped four months ago and the daily Al-Riyad sent its commentator Mansur al-Nogaidan on indefinite leave. Like Shobokshi, Nogaidan has had death threats. "Newsapers prefer to avoid problems by simply asking journalists to stop writing," he says. MIRA leader Saad al-Faqih told Reporters Without Borders that the Saudis had jammed Al-Islah radio broadcasts since 22 October to head off MIRA's call for street demonstrations in nine of the country's towns to demand the release of those jailed after an earlier protest. A rare demonstration by several hundred people was staged on 14 October in front of Riyadh's conference centre where a human rights meeting was being held. The interior ministry, which forbids all public gatherings or demonstrations throughout the country, said 83 people were arrested and would soon be tried. Al-Islah, launched by the opposition last December and broadcasting from Europe round the clock via the Hotbird satellite on the 11.096 MHz frequency, carries interviews with the MIRA leadership, other figures and ordinary people, especially Saudis, as well as cultural and news programmes. In May this year, MIRA started up a satellite TV station (also called Al-Islah), whose programme production, broadcasting and technical signals pass through several European countries. But it was mysteriously cut off in August and Faqih said strong Saudi government pressure had been exerted on the various operators involved in the station's broadcasting.