Aged 40, Nazir Al-Majid is known in Saudi Arabia for expressing liberal philosophical views and for criticizing Shia religious doctrine and government policies in his published writings.
He was convicted on a range of charges including disobeying the authorities, taking part in demonstrations in the Qatif region, criticizing the government in his writings (some dating back to 2007) and being in contact with the correspondents of such foreign media outlets as Reuters, AFP and CNN.
Tried before the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, which often handles terrorism cases, he was arrested immediately following the trial to begin serving the jail term and was given no time to warn his loved ones.
“We condemn this journalist’s imprisonment because of his writings and his opinions,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “He is guilty only of exercising his right to freedom of information and telling regional and international media about demonstrations in his region. We stress the importance of allowing a public debate in Saudi Arabia, and we urge the authorities to free him at once and to overturn this conviction.”
According to RSF’s sources, Majid was not accompanied by a lawyer during his trial and his family has yet to get access to a copy of the court’s decision. He is currently being held in Riyadh’s Ha’ir prison.
The charges on which he was convicted date back to 2011, when he was detained and spent a total of 15 months in pre-trial detention. He was arrested for the first time on 13 April 2011, shortly after posing an article online entitled, “I protest, therefore I am a human being.”
Majid has written for many Arabic-language newspapers including the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and the Saudi regional newspaper Al-Sharq.
At least 11 journalists and citizen journalists are currently detained in Saudi Arabia, which is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.