The wave of arrests from 16 to 21 November demonstrated that the Saudi regime has failed to learn the lessons of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder just over a year ago, and that it is still violating journalists’ rights.
The authorities have released all of the nine persons arrested last month, who included seven journalists and writers. But these journalists were subjected to full-blown interrogations and were freed only after signing pledges “not to interfere in matters with which they have no relation.” In other words, they were forced to renounce their basic right to freedom of expression.
“Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency must not deflect attention from the fact that it is still holding at least 32 journalists for arbitrary reasons,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We will not allow the international diplomatic apparatus to conceal the reality of this regime’s repressive methods. It is a cruel irony that the figure of 32 detained journalists is the same as the number of countries said to have participants in the media forum that Saudi Arabia is currently hosting.”
Saudi Arabia has been hosting the first “Saudi Media Forum,” which is supposed to discuss the current role of the media and the challenges they will face in the future. The Saudi authorities said around a thousand “journalists and experts from 32 countries” were expected to attend the two-day forum, which ends today, and that 20 conferences would be held on each of the two days.
At the end of this forum, prizes are to be awarded for in six categories: print media, visual production, sound production, smartphone apps, innovation and media personality. The forum could have been the occasion for concrete progress on press freedom but, unfortunately, another opportunity has been missed.
Ranked 172nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Saudi Arabia is now one the world’s three leading jailers of journalists, along with China and Egypt.