Saudi crown prince in Paris, despite Khashoggi murder and 27 journalists in prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reminds France’s president that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom he plans to meet tomorrow (28 July) in Paris, is currently detaining at least 27 journalists and bloggers and is suspected of having ordered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s October 2018 murder.
“Four years after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Mohammed bin Salman’s reintegration into international relations cannot take place at the expense of truth and justice, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. RSF asks French President Emmanuel Macron to intercede with Mohammed bin Salman and press for the release of the 27 journalists currently detained in Saudi Arabia. The monarchy must also now allow the blogger Raif Badawi to leave this country where he served a ten-year prison sentence and is now subject to a ten-year ban on international travel although his family lives in Canada.”
Each of MBS’s meetings with foreign leaders – Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on 22 June and Joe Biden in Riyadh on 16 July – raises the issue of the impunity surrounding Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. A Washington Post columnist, Khashoggi had called on the crown prince to restore his country’s “dignity” by ending the “cruel war” in Yemen and had criticised the wave of arrests that followed MBS’s appointment as crown prince. Two reports, one by UN special rapporteur Agnès Callamard and a CIA report released in February 2021, have concluded that MBS had a hand in the murder.
During Biden’s visit in mid-July, MBS said the Khashoggi case was closed. The Saudi trial of those deemed responsible, held behind closed doors from start to finish, ended in September 2020 and resulted in eight persons being given sentences ranging from three to 20 years in prison. Turkey transferred its own case against Khashoggi’s presumed murderers to Saudi justice in April of this year. But the Saudi authorities have taken no action since then.
The case of the blogger Raif Badawi also continues to attract a great deal of international attention. He was released from prison in March after completing a ten-year jail sentence on a charge of “insulting Islam” but is now banned from leaving the country for ten years. His wife and children, who live in Canada, have repeatedly called for him to be allowed to join them there.
At least 27 journalists, including media professionals, bloggers and TV commentators, continue to be imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Most have not been formally charged and tried. A common feature is that they called for a debate about Saudi society at a time when MBS was embarking on a series of reforms that raised hopes and led many to think the ambitious prince's plans would result in more openness. Some also made the mistake of voicing support for prisoners of conscience in social media posts.
The latest journalist to be freed was Nazeer Al-Majed, who was released on 22 July on completing a seven-year prison sentence. But at least two others have been convicted in the past year or so – Ali Aboluhom, a Yemeni journalist sentenced to 15 years in prison in October 2021 for apostasy, and Ahmed Ali Abdulgadir, a Sudanese journalist sentenced to four years in prison in June 2021 for “insulting state institutions.”
As a result of the waves of arrests of journalists that have taken place since MBS’s appointment as crown prince in 2017, he is on RSF’s list of predators of press freedom.