CPJ calls for the release of Saudi editor and academic

New York, December 8, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Saudi authorities to immediately release Mohamed al-Abdulkarim, an Islamic law professor, human rights activist, and the editor-in-chief of an online magazine. He was arrested on Sunday, two weeks after an article he wrote was published online.

Al-Abdulkarim wrote critically about the Saudi Arabian royal family and explored succession scenarios and a related power struggle within the royal palace. The article was published a day after the 86-year-old King Abdullah travelled to the United Sates for surgery, Agence France-Presse reported.  He also criticized widespread government corruption and money spent on U.S.-manufactured weapons. The story first appeared on al-Abdulkarim’s Facebook page and was later circulated online, Ibrahim Mugaiteeb, head of Human Rights First Society of Saudi Arabia (HRFS) told CPJ. Royaah, an online magazine, published it on November 23.

On December 5, four men arrested al-Abdulkarim at his home in Riyadh, according to a statement from HRFS. AFP reported Mugaiteeb as saying the editor’s detention is illegal because he was detained without a warrant. Mugaiteeb told CPJ that detainees must be charged by a judge within 24 hours or be released.

“We call on Riyadh to release Mohamed al-Abdulkarim without delay,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator. “Al-Abdulkarim is being unjustly persecuted for writing on matters, such as Saudi Arabia’s succession scenarios, that are discussed on a daily basis in newspapers and online publications throughout the world.”

Al-Abdulkarim is a professor at Imam Mohamed bin Saud University in Riyadh, where he teaches Islamic jurisprudence. He is a human rights activist and a member of several local human rights organizations, as well as the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Mutamar Al-Umma. According to a statement published on the magazine’s website, al-Abdulkarim is being held at Al-Hayer Prison, which holds political prisoners south of Riyadh.

A far-reaching online campaign for al-Abdulkarim has sprung up in Saudi Arabia, with multiple Facebook pages calling for his release. His case has also triggered widespread online discussions about press freedoms in the kingdom.