Ever since his aging father named him crown prince in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has concentrated all power in his hands and has been the de factor head of a monarchy that tolerates no press freedom. The kingdom is one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists and its judicial proceedings are completely opaque. Many imprisoned journalists are given no indication of the charges on which they are being held. When the charges are known, they typically ranged from “defaming the kingdom” and “insulting the monarchy” to “collaborating with foreign entities.” There is no limit on the methods used to hound journalists, which include use of spyware, threats, abduction, torture, sexual abuse of detainees, solitary confinement, neglecting their medical needs and depriving them of contact with their families. The gruesome murder of Washington Post
editorialist Jamal Khashoggi, who was hacked to pieces inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, dealt a terminal blow to any hope of being able to criticise, and exposed the extent of the brutality of the regime’s persecution of outspoken journalists, even beyond its borders.
The 30 journalists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia include media figures who were widely followed on social media, especially Twitter, and who were potentially very influential. Others were broadcast media presenters who made the mistake of implicitly encouraging reforms in their programmes by tackling sensitive issues and by calling for a debate. They also include women bloggers specialising in women’s rights, who criticised the male guardianship system and voiced solidarity with female colleagues who had already been jailed. And finally, Raif Badawi
, a blogger who has been imprisoned since June 2009 for “insulting Islam,” is now a symbol of the scale of the oppressive conservatism that endures in Saudi Arabia.
OFFICIAL DISCOURSE: Responsible but not guilty