New York, March 16, 2012--Three Saudi Web managers whose sites cover political unrest in the country's highly restricted Eastern Province should be released from detention immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Habib Ali al-Maatiq, a photographer who supervised the news website Al-Fajr Cultural Network, was arrested by security forces on February 22 at his workplace in the city of Jubail, news outlets reported. Another photographer, Hussein Malik al-Salam, who also managed the site, was arrested by security forces the next day while at his university in Jubail, news reports said. The journalists are being held without charge in a prison in Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Province, news reports said.
Al-Fajr Cultural Network covers pro-reform protests in the predominantly Shiite region, which has consistently faced discrimination and repression by the regime, local journalists told CPJ. The website, which was taken down after the journalists were arrested, has also published sermons by Shiite sheikhs who support the protests.
Jalal Mohamed al-Jamal, who manages the news website Al-Awamia, was arrested on February 25 by security forces in the city of Al-Qatif and taken to an unknown location, local journalists told CPJ. A local journalist said al-Jamal was accused of opposing the state and inciting its downfall, but the charges have not been made public. Al-Awamia, which was taken down after al-Jamal's arrest, was instrumental in covering the pro-reform demonstrations in the Eastern Province and is known for its criticism of the regime, news reports said.
"These three men are being held because they dared to collect and disseminate information that the government prefers to keep out of sight," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Authorities must release them and restore access to the websites they were operating."
The kingdom has obstructed coverage of the protests in the Eastern Province, which call for political reforms and greater rights for the country's Shiite minority, CPJ research shows. No foreign or local journalists have been allowed to enter the province, and in the absence of independent reporting, coverage of the unrest is carried out by websites like Al-Fajr Cultural Network and Al-Awamia.