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Saudi Arabia on World Press Freedom Day: Laws & Policies Legalize the Systemic Violation Of Press Freedom

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While the word is celebrating the World Press Freedom Day, on May 3, 2018, press pioneers in Saudi Arabia are behind the bars and in the courtroom dedicated to terrorism for their desire of practicing freedom. It opened up the issue of “The Balance of Power: Media, Justice & the Rule of Law”, the UN underscored the importance of creating an enabling legal environment for press freedom at the 2018 celebration. It also paid a “special attention for the independent judiciary role to provide legal guarantees to the freedom of press and to prosecute individuals who had committed crimes against journalists”.

The aim of “The Balance of Power” is to discover the legislative gaps regarding the freedom of expression and information on the internet and the risks of organizing online speeches”. It also to ensures the importance of “developing effective, accountable and transparent intuitions at all levels” that’s why “the Press Freedom is essential”.

 

Saudi Legislations & Press Freedom

Contrary to the contents of the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day this year which seek to “create an enabling legal environment for Press Freedom”, we can find several laws in Saudi Arabia – within the work of the Ministry of Culture & Information- that includes what is used to restrict the freedom of press; such as the copyright system, the implementing of  regulation of the electronic publishing activity, press organizations system, Press & Publications Act and the implementing of regulation of Press & Publications. Through these acts and others the government could target journalists and whoever expresses his opinion through modern and traditional media.

Some legal articles ensure the right of freedom and expression, but it is ended with additional loose words which could be explained in an arbitrary manner.

Including Article 8 of the Press and Publications Act which stipulates that “freedom of expression shall be guaranteed by various means of publication within the scope of the Shari’a and regulations. There are also other articles in the same Act that limit or prevent freedom, like the Article 9: “Each official in the publication shall commit to the substantive and constructive criticism which aim at public interest based on facts and true evidence and it is prohibited to publish, by any means, any of the following:

  1. What is contrary to the Islamic Sharia provisions or to the regulations in force.
  2. What calls for threatening the country’s security or its public system, or what serves the foreign interests that contradict the national interests.
  3. Exposure or harm the reputation, or dignity, or personal abuse to the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom, or to the members of the Council of Senior Scientists, or Statesmen or any of its employees or any person of a natural or private character.
  4. Stirring up tensions and dividing the citizens.
  5. Encouraging and urging crime.
  6. What harms the public affairs in the country.

Facts of investigations or prosecutions without having permission from the entity authorized. All the contents of this article shall be explained by the State and its bodies, according to what it believes and not according to what the civil society sees.

Likewise, the Saudi government uses the judiciary and other laws to punish the journalists and prevent them from working, like the Act of Promulgating the Cyberspace Crimes which its articles provides for sanctions against journalists or individuals who use the internet to express their opinion; as the article 6 provides sentences of not more than five years imprisonment and a maximum fine of three million riyal for: “producing what harms the public system, the religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, preparing it, sending or saving it”.

The Saudi government uses, widely, the system of terrorism crimes and financing terrorism in order to criminalize peaceful activists and journalists. Through its loose narrations, the government can criminalize critics and visionaries when it dislikes their standings. For example, in its amended version of November 2017, the law states in the article 30: “Any one described –directly or indirectly- the King or the Crown Prince with any description that challenges the religion or justice, shall face a sanction of not more than ten years and not less than five years of imprisonment”, and under this article, the government can criminalize a lot of opinions through expansive explanations.

 

Press Reality

Legislations and official policies in Saudi Arabia restrict the freedom of the press and a number of types of expressing opinion. Where the media, under the terms of license to practice the work, are imposed to the “Media Policy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, which is issued by the Ministry of Culture and Information that makes the freedom of media work very limited.  Since the beginning of King Salman reign in January 2015, repression and restrictions on press freedom and on freedom of expression and opinion have intensified. This was confirmed when his son Mohammad bin Salman took over the crown prince in June 2017, the position that was added to many previous posts, that contributes in limiting freedoms and civil and political rights.

In April 2018, the information referred that the journalist Turky Al Dosary has been detained two days after an intense debate between him and Turky Al Shiekh who is close to Mohammad bin Salman. Turky Al Shiekh serves the position of Adviser at the Royal Court, the President of the Sport Public Authority and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee as well as the president of Islamic Solidarity ports Federation and the Arab Football Federation.  Also, in February 2018 the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information announced that it stopped the Saudi writer Mohammad Al Suhaimi and referred him to investigations for his TV statements regarding the number of Masjeds and Athan. During the same month the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh on Terrorism and State Security cases, sentenced the columnist Saleh Al Shehi to 5 years imprisonment followed by 5 years of travel ban; for criticizing the large-scale corruption in the royal court, the highest authority in the country.

Furthermore, in April 2017 the Saudi government detained the blogger and the environmental activist Ali Shaaban for his standings in defending human rights on social media.

The arbitrary detains launched by the Saudi government in September 2017 included a number of writers and journalists such as the writer and the researcher Abdullah Al Maliki who criticized through tweeter, what he called (autocracy). As well as it detained the publicist Fahd Al Sanidi among the mysterious and arbitrary arrest campaign of September 2017. Likewise, September arrests included the detention of the journalist Jamil Farisi who criticized the economic policies.

In addition to the steps that taken by Saudi Arabia based on the political dispute with Qatar, in May 2017, it blocked the Qatari media, to be added to the ban list that imposes on a large number of websites that not comply with its policies or criticize it, including sites of human rights organisations.

Besides, dozens of journalists are still in the places of detentions serving various sanctions for their activities, including the writer Nather Al Majed who the terrorism court sentenced him to seven years imprisonment for various writings supporting freedoms and human rights; while the journalist Alaa Branji was sentenced to five years in prison which increased later to seven years for charges such as tweets opposes the government’s violations and other charges related to expressing his opinion. Likewise, the photographer Jasem Makki Al Safar is serving 7 years in prison for charges including raising pictures in demonstrations and meeting foreign journalists. It also sentenced the poet and writer Adel Al Labbad to thirteen years in prison for some of his poems in which he denounced killing protestors and for his writings through which he called for rights and freedoms. Furthermore, the publicist Al ShiekhWajdi Al Ghazawi was sentenced to twelve years for his media participation in which he criticized corruption and called for change, and the writer Mohammad Al Khuwailadi, the journalist Ali Jaseb Al Tahefa, the writer Zakria Safwan and more are detained; knowing that the blogger Raef Badawi is still behind the bars.

 

Future of Press Freedom

The names of individuals detained for expressing their opinion through traditional and social media show that the Saudi government is adopting an arbitrary approach in prosecuting and pursing them, thereby it prohibits any voice that criticizing it or expresses opinions different from its policy. It also uses the official bodies in targeting them, including the judiciary which is supposed to contribute in the maintenance of freedoms and the protection of press; instead it is being used as a repressive tool.

On World Press Freedom Day, ESOHR confirms that press freedom in Saudi Arabia is virtually non-existent where laws and regulations approved by the government contributed to legalize the violations, in addition to judiciary and executive bodies which are used to suppress. The organisation emphasizes that the first way to secure press freedom in Saudi Arabia is somehow based on the themes of 2018, including “creating an enabling legal environment for freedom of the press”.

Moreover, the organisation stresses that the promises made by the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in his last interview such as the one with The Atlantic magazine on “promoting freedom of expression as much as he can”, could not be serious without refraining from using defective laws and releasing the arbitrary detained journalists, writers and bloggers, and also ensuring that they have fair trials in case of significant criminal charges, and not because of the exercising the right of expression which is guaranteed in fair regulations.

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