Prince Mohammed is set to visit the UK from 7 to 9 March to sign a series of bilateral agreements, reportedly worth more than $100 billion, and is expected to join the Queen for dinner at Windsor Castle. But whilst Prince Mohammed is receiving the royal treatment in the UK, the situation is bleak for his critics at home in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the world’s worst records on press freedom.
At least four journalists and seven citizen journalists are currently serving prison sentences in Saudi Arabia, and at least 15 others have been arbitrarily held in a wave of arrests that started in September 2017. Harassment of journalists has been on the rise since last June, and in November, a new terrorism law was adopted that could easily be used to prosecute journalists and activists. In December, the Saudi media were urged to display more “patriotism”.
Blogger Raif Badawi is among those behind bars in Saudi Arabia. Winner of the 2014 RSF Press Freedom Prize, Badawi has been jailed since June 2012 and was brutally flogged in January 2015 as part of his sentence to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on charges of insulting Islam. Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair is also imprisoned, serving a 15-year sentence on a range of charges related to his work defending freedom of expression. Turad Al Amri, a famous journalist and commentator, is believed to have been detained since November 2016, although the authorities have never confirmed this. Journalist Saleh Al-Shehi was sentenced just last month to five years in prison on charges of insulting the royal court.
“Prince Mohammed must not be given a pass on press freedom issues in his meetings here in London. Continued silence on this free expression clampdown sends the wrong signal about the UK’s priorities in its relations with Saudi Arabia. Theresa May should ensure this visit does not become another missed opportunity to call for the release of Raif Badawi and the other journalists and citizen journalists unjustly jailed in Saudi Arabia”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.
Saudi Arabia is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.