Saudi journalist detained for writings

New York, April 7, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of a Saudi journalist who has been held for five days in retaliation for his writings about religious extremism.

Rabah al-Quwai’, who writes for the Saudi dailies Okaz and Shams and contributes to the Saudi-run Web sites Dar al-Nadwa and Gasd al-Thiqafa, was detained on Monday in the northern city of Hail after being summoned from Riyadh by security authorities.

Local prosecutors are investigating al-Quwai’ for allegedly having “denigrated Islamic beliefs” in writings that scrutinized conservative religious forces, his lawyer, Abdelrahman al-Lahem, told CPJ. Al-Lahem said the journalist has faced two rounds of questioning since his arrest. No charges have been disclosed.

In his writings, al-Quwai’ has criticized the strict religious interpretations of hard-line Islamists who subscribe to the Wahabbi doctrine and who wield tremendous influence in the country. The journalist has received prior threats from suspected religious extremists. Last November, Saudi news Web sites reported that unknown assailants smashed the windshield of al-Quwai’s car and left a threatening letter warning him: “First time your car, next time you. Go back to your religion and leave these fictions behind. This is the last warning.”

Since September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia’s government has loosened its shackles on the domestic press and local journalists have seized the initiative to produce more daring reports on crime, drug trafficking, unemployment, and religious extremism. Under pressure from religious authorities, however, the government frequently reins in criticism by banning newspapers, blacklisting writers, and pressuring journalists behind the scenes.

“We condemn the detention of Rabah al-Quwai’ and call for his immediate release,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Saudi officials cannot say they support greater media reforms and then arrest journalists because of what they write.”