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October 25, 2018 - Updated on November 19, 2020

RSF unveils portraits of journalists arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reminds the world that at least 34 journalists are currently detained in Saudi Arabia for the same reason that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – for criticizing their country’s rulers. RSF unveils their portraits below.

At least 34 TV presenters, editors, columnists and bloggers are currently in prison, the victims of an opaque and arbitrary judicial system, because of what they said in an article, a TV interview, a blog post or even a single tweet.


According to certain local media outlets, the journalist Turki Al-Jasser probably died under torture shortly after Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudi authorities have never denied this. As for the presenter and preacher Ali Al-Omari, who is part of the Muslim scholars movement considered moderate, he faces the death penalty for terrorism-related charges.


Some were arrested many years ago, under the late King Abdullah or when the current king, Salman, was crown prince and in control. They include the citizen-journalist Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” Others are the victims of the crackdown launched in the autumn of 2017 by the current crown prince, his son Mohammad bin Salman (MBS).


Since then the list of detainees has grown longer in the course of several waves of arrests. In March 2018, three women who defended women’s rights – columnists and bloggers – were arrested and accused of endangering the state’s security and being in contact with foreign entities. In the fall of 2019, two additional women journalists were thrown behind bars in yet another wave of arrests and their fate is uncertain: Maha Al-Rafidi and Zana Al-Shahri.


The detainees included two foreign journalists, the Yemeni Marwan Al-Muraisy and the Jordanian Abdelrahman Farhaneh, who were the victims of enforced disappearances. Their families are still waiting for them to be released.


JAILED BEFORE 2017

Fadhel Al-Manasef, citizen-journalist and human rights defender

Charges: “Working against national security and stability,” “disloyalty towards the king,” and “publishing articles and communicating with foreign journalists with the aim of harming the state’s image”.
Jailed since: 1 May 2011.
Judicial situation: Sentenced on 17 April 2014 to 15 years in prison, a fine of 100,000 riyals (19,300 euros) and a 15-year ban on leaving the country after release.

Raif Badawi, blogger, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network (an online forum)

Charges: “Insulting Islam” and “undermines public order, religious values, public decency or privacy.” 

Jailed since: 17 June 2012

Judicial situation: Sentenced in May 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a ten-year ban on leaving the country after release and a fine of 1 million riyals  (226,000 euros). He already received 50 lashes.

Jassim Al Safar, photographer

Charges: “Participating in anti-government protests,” “publishing photos of prisons in public places” and “being in contact with foreign journalists and sending photos to media outlets”.

Jailed since: 9 May 2013.

Judicial situation: Sentenced in July 2014 to seven years in prison and a seven-year ban on leaving the country after release.

Wajdi Al-Ghazzawi, TV presenter and founder of the Al Fajr TV channel

Charges: “Inciting division within members of society” and “defaming the state and its judicial institutions". The court also banned al-Ghazzawi for life from appearing on media outlets and forbade him to leave the country for 20 years.

Jailed since: 10 August 2012.

Judicial situation: Sentenced in February 2014 to 12 years in prison and a 20-year ban on leaving the country after release.

Waleed Abulkhair, founder of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

Charges: “Inciting rebellion,” “publishing false information with the aim of harming the state,” "contempt of court" and "creating an NGO without permission".

Jailed since: 15 April 2014.

Judicial situation: Sentenced to 15 years in jail and a 15-year ban on leaving the country after release.

Alaa Brinji, journalist

Charges: Insulting comments on social networks; convicted of violating article 6 of the cybercrime law, mocking religious figures and Saudi leaders, “inciting public opinion” and “accusing members of the security forces of killing demonstrators”.

Jailed since: 12 May 2014.

Judicial situation: Sentenced on appeal in 2016 to seven years in prison. Alaa Brinji was arrested in the eastern city of Dammam on 13 May 2014 and was initially sentenced in March 2016 to five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 riyals but, when he appealed, the jail term was increased to seven years.

Turad Al-Amri, political analyst and commentator

Charges: Not known. No official charges.
Jailed since: November 2016.
Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.


JAILED IN 2017

Nazeer Al-Majed, author and journalist

Charges: “Disobeying the authorities,” “participating in demonstrations,” “writings critical of the government,” “endangering the country’s security” and contacts with foreign media. 

Jailed since: 18 January 2017. (Previously arrested in 2011) 

Judicial situation: Sentenced on 5 June 2017 to seven years in prison, a seven-year ban on leaving the country after release and a fine of more than 100.000 riyals.

Ali Al-Omari, preacher, author, 4Shabab TV presenter

Charges: “forming a youth organisation to carry out the objectives of a terrorist group”.

Jailed since: 9 September 2017.

Judicial situation: death penalty sought. Final verdict pending. Victim of tortures.

 Musa’id Al-Kathiri, Writer and columnist

Charges: Unknown. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 11 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention

Waleed Al-Huwairini, journalist and presenter on Al-Majd

Charges: Unknown. No official charge.

Jailed since: 12 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. In September 2017, he was not allowed to attend his father’s funerals

Adel Banaemah, preacher, author, 4Shabab TV presenter 

Charges: Not known. No official charge.

Jailed since: 12 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. Victim of tortures

Fahd Al-Sunaidi, commentator and Al-Majd TV presenter 

Charges: "Agitating and provoking public opinion" because he demanded the release of detainees. He was accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood party.

Jailed since: 11 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. His trial reportedly began in September 2018. He was sentenced in September to 3 and a half years in prison, which includes the time already served.

Khaled Al-Alkami, writer and political analyst

Charges: Not know. No official charge.

Jailed since: 15 september 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention

Malek Al-Ahmad, editor of several media outlets and founder of Al Mohayed (The Neutral One)

Charges: Not known. There are no formal charges.

Jailed since:  19 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Sami Al-Thubaiti, journalist with the website Twasul

Charges: Not known. No official charge. His calls for reconciliation with Qatar may have counted against him.

Jailed since: 13 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. He was supposed to have a closed trial in February 2020 but it was postponed because of covid-19

Ahmad Al-Sowayan, president of the Islamic Press Association

Charges: Unspecified speech charges.

Jailed since: 20 September 2017.

Judicial situation: Sentenced in September 2020 to 2 years in prison.

Jamil Farsi, businessman and commentator

Charges: Not known. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 25 September 2017. 

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. 

Mohammed Al-Bishr, journalist and commentator

Charges: Not known. No official charge.

Jailed since: 5 October 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. A torture victim.

JAILED IN 2018 

Turki Al-Jasser, author and journalist

Charges: Not known. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 15 March 2017.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. 

Nouf Abdulaziz, women’s rights activist and blogger

Charges: Not known. No official charge.  "Coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom", "Contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists" and "Producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network". 

Jailed since: 7 June 2018.

Judicial situation: Preventive detention. Trial under way. Initially detained in Dhahaban, she was transferred to Ha’ir prison and tortured. 

Marwan Al-Muraisy, Yemeni writer and commentator based in Saudi Arabia

Charges: Not known. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 1 June 2018.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Nassima Al-Sadah, women’s rights activist and commentator

Charges: Not known. No official charge. Accused of being in contact with foreign entities. Because of her activism and writings, she was banned from leaving the country before being arrested. 

Jailed since: 30 July 2018. 

Judicial situation: Isolated since February 2019, when she was transferred to Al-Mabahith prison in Dammam. 

Sultan Al-Jumairi, journalist and columnist

Charges: Not known. No official charge.

Jailed since: 9 September 2018.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

JAILED IN 2019

Zuhair Kutbi, writer and journalist

Charges: Not known. No official charge. He was already arrested in June 2015 and sentenced to four years in prison on charges of "inciting rebellion" and “insulting the state or its symbols.” He was released in June 2017 in return for his silence.

Jailed since: 10 January 2019.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. He was arrested 7 times due to his support for reformism. 

Abdelrahman Farhaneh, Jordanian journalist based in Saudi Arabia

Charges: Not known. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 22 February 2019. 

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. He was supposed to be released a few months after his arrest due to his age and health but he was not. 

Bader Al-Ibrahim, doctor, writer and journalist

Charges: Not known. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 4 April 2019. 

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Mohammed Al-Sadiq, writer and journalist

Charges: Unknown. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 4 April 2019. He was previously detained for 12 days in May 2018 for expressing support for imprisoned activists.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Thumar Al-Marzouqi, writer, blogger and journalist

Charges: Unknown. No official charge. 

Jailed since: April 2019.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention

Abdullah Al-Duhailan, writer and journalist

Charges: Unknown. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 5 April 2019. 

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Yazid Al-Faifi, local journalist

Charges: Unknown. No official charge.

Jailed since: 4 April 2019. 

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Nayef Al-Hindas, academic, writer and journalist

Charges: Not known. No official charge. 

Jailed since: 4 April 2019.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention.

Maha Al-Rafidi, intern at Al-Watan 

Charges: Unknown. No official charges. 

Jailed since:  28 september 2019. 

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. She was sent to solitary confinement for the first two months of her detention and then transferred to the prison.

Zana Al-Shahri, Writer and journalist

Charges: Unknown. No official charges.

Jailed since: November 2019.

Judicial situation: Preventive or administrative detention. Forced disappearance.