Saudi columnist held without charge for four days

New York, October 31, 2013–Saudi authorities should immediately release a columnist who wrote in support of the women’s right to drive and has been held without charge since Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Tariq al-Mubarak, a columnist for the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, was summoned by investigators on Sunday in the capital, Riyadh, about a car that had been stolen over the weekend, according to news reports. But when he arrived at the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Department the next day, interrogators questioned him about his role in a campaign for women’s right to drive in the kingdom, according to news reports and human rights organizations.

Al-Mubarak was arrested and has been in government custody since. He has not been allowed access to his family or a lawyer, according to news reports.

In early October, al-Mubarak wrote an article in Asharq al-Awsat criticizing the driving ban and other discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia. The article, which was called “The Woman in the Gulf … Time for Change,” urged Saudi citizens to bring about change in the country and said that it was time for women to be “emancipated.”

On October 26, there was a demonstration against the government’s ban on women driving, which angered religious leaders.

“Tariq al-Mubarak is evidently being held in retaliation for writing in support of women’s rights, which is not a crime,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Saudi authorities should disclose charges against al-Mubarak or release him immediately.”

Shortly after al-Mubarak’s arrest, a new column he wrote was published, called “When the mob threatens.” In the article, the journalist criticized extremist religious groups in the country and urged Saudi citizens to demand human rights.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki told CNN on Tuesday that the Saudi Bureau of Investigation could summon people for questioning, but did not confirm or deny whether al-Mubarak was being held in custody. Authorities have not disclosed any charges against him.

Separately, Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari was released on Tuesday after being held for nearly two years for insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter, news reports said. Kashgari had fled to Malaysia in February 2012 fearing for his safety after receiving death threats, but he was extradited back to Saudi Arabia and imprisoned. Convicted blasphemers can be sentenced to death under Saudi law.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Saudi Arabia page here.