Saudi Arabia convicts TV presenter for critical show

New York, February 6, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the 12-year jail term handed to the owner of a broadcaster in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. The journalist has 30 days to appeal.

A court in the capital, Riyadh, convicted Wajdi al-Ghazzawi, owner of the religious satellite broadcaster Al-Fajr Media Group, of “harming the nation’s image,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency and regional human rights groups. The 12-year prison sentence included a five-year term under Article 6 of the country’s cybercrime law, which criminalizes the production of material impinging on public order and public morals, among other issues. The court also banned the host for life from appearing on media outlets and forbade him from leaving the country for 20 years. He was taken to jail after the hearing.

The court said al-Ghazzawi had incited sedition and hurt the kingdom’s reputation on the show. Beginning in 2011, al-Ghazzawi had aired seven episodes of a TV show called “Fadfadah,” in which he criticized the Saudi government and accused it of widespread corruption. In a few of the episodes, he also claimed that the kingdom had adopted a policy of slavery and that Al-Qaeda had been created by Saudi Arabia.

During the trial, al-Ghazzai said his show was intended to educate Saudi citizens and repeated his belief that Al-Qaeda was a Saudi creation, according to news reports.

“Saudi authorities are not only imposing an extremely harsh punishment on Wajdi al-Ghazzawi for airing his opinion on TV, but are warning  all the journalists in the country that criticism will not be tolerated,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.  “We call for the journalist’s conviction to be reversed on appeal.”

At least two Saudi journalists were in jail when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1. Habib Ali al-Maatiq and Hussein Malik al-Salam, both managers of the critical news website Al-Fajr Cultural Network, were imprisoned in February 2012 in connection with their coverage of pro-reform protests in the country.

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original text of this alert incorrectly said al-Ghazzawi is the host of Wajd TV satellite channel. He is the owner of al-Fajr Media Group and he sometimes posts videos from the group on his YouTube channel, “Wajdi TV.”