RSF has protested against the interior minister's decision to censor the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and says it shows once again the Saudi government wants to punish any media criticism.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) expressed its concern today at the imposing of pre-distribution censorship on the respected pan-Arab daily paper Al-Hayat and accused the government of wanting to "punish any media criticism" of the authorities. "Things are now moving backwards after a small degree of press liberalisation over the past few months," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard noted in a letter to information minister Fuad al-Farsi. "This is the second time in a week that the authorities have exerted pressure on major newspapers.". Saudi Arabia's King Ibn al-Saud, was added to RSF's worldwide list of "predators of press freedom" last November. The minister ordered censorship of Al-Hayat from 22 March following an editorial the previous day by its Riyadh bureau chief, Daud Shurayan, criticising what the minister had said about censorship at a meeting with local newspaper editors. The minister had forbidden the press to publish his remarks. Shurayan wrote that he did not consider what had been said to be "state secrets." A royal decree last year authorised Al-Hayat (owned by the son of defence minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan), along with Saudi newspapers and another respected pan-Arab daily, Ash Sharq al-Awsat, to be distributed without being censored. On 18 March, the interior minister, Prince Nayef, ordered the dismissal of Mohammed al-Mukhtar al-Fal, editor-in-chief of the daily paper Al-Madina, eight days after he published a poem by Abdul Mohsen Musalam, called "The Corrupt on Earth," which accused judges of corruption and abuses. The poet, one of the country's best known, wrote that it was "sad that in the Muslim world, justice is suffering from a few judges who care for nothing but their bank accounts." Musalam was arrested on 16 March and imprisoned in Jeddah.