Saudi Arabia and Egypt : Harrowing Ramadan in world’s worst prisons for journalists
On what is the first day of Ramadan in most Muslim countries, a period of meditation and reconciliation, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two leading jailers of media personnel, to release detained journalists whose isolation is being aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt head the list of the “world’s worst prisons for journalists” and together are holding nearly 60 journalists. Most of them have already been held for long periods so this will not be the first time they are spending the Muslim holy month in detention.
But this is a new and terrible experience for some. They include Maha Al-Rafidi, a Saudi journalist with the Al-Watan daily newspaper, who was one of the victims of a wave of arrests last September. They also include ten Egyptian journalists who were detained in September, October and November in the biggest wave of arrests since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi became president in 2014.
“Spending Ramadan on their own is a terrible additional blow for imprisoned journalists who are already every exposed in what are high risk places during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The Saudi and Egyptian authorities must use this traditionally favourable time for forgiveness and clemency to display humanity by freeing them.”
The Saudi detainees include Raif Badawi, a blogger who will soon complete his eighth year in prison on a charge of “insulting Islam.” Held in isolation, he is allowed only brief and increasingly irregular phone calls with his family. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is disturbed that the periods she must spend without any news from him are getting longer and longer.
Some of the journalists held in Egypt have not waited for Ramadan to deprive themselves of food and liquids. Freelancer Esraa Abdel Fattah began a hunger strike immediately after her arrest on 12 October 2019. A month later, she announced that she was also depriving herself of liquids for 12 hours out of every 24. She was forced to abandon the hunger strike ten days later when her health worsened sharply.
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Saudi Arabia is ranked 170th.