Authorities confiscate NBC footage

April 23, 2002

H.R.H. Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud
C/o H.R.H. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud
Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037

Via facsimile: (202) 944-5983

Your Royal Highness:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest an incident over the weekend in which Saudi authorities confiscated videotapes and a laptop computer from Dr. Bob Arnot, a reporter for the U.S. cable television channel MSNBC.

On April 21, security officials at the Riyadh airport escorted Dr. Arnot off a flight to Dubai, in the neighboring United Arab Emirates. The officials demanded video footage that Dr. Arnot had gathered during his reporting trip to Saudi Arabia, which the journalist undertook with Saudi government permission.

After Dr. Arnot declined to surrender his footage, the officials proceeded to confiscate 18 videotapes and a laptop computer, according to NBC. Dr. Arnot and the other passengers were delayed for five hours before being allowed to board the plane and continue on the flight.

Saudi authorities gave no reason for confiscating Dr. Arnot’s materials. However, the journalist had worked on several potentially sensitive stories, including one in which Saudi schoolboys expressed anti-American sentiments. Officials at the school had asked Dr. Arnot to hand over the tapes after those interviews, but the journalist refused, an NBC source said.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ views this incident as an act of censorship and a flagrant violation of the right to free expression, which is guaranteed under international law.

We call on Saudi authorities to provide a public accounting of this incident and to return the tapes and computer to NBC immediately. We further ask Your Royal Highness to ensure that all journalists in Saudi Arabia may carry out their duties without future interference from the government.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director