New York, January 5, 2018 — Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately release Saleh al-Shehi from detention and stop arresting journalists who criticize the country’s government, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Saudi security forces arrested al-Shehi, a columnist for the Saudi Arabian daily al-Watan, on January 3, according to Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and news reports, which all cited Saudi activists’ reporting on social media.
“Despite promises of reform and moderation from Saudi Arabia’s emerging leadership, it is clear from Saleh al-Shehi’s arrest that repression as usual continues,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, said from Washington D.C. “Saudi authorities must release al-Shehi immediately, and Saudi leaders should ensure that the press is able to freely report on all issues of public interest.”
Authorities have neither confirmed the arrest nor announced any formal charges against al-Shehi, according to news reports.
CPJ was unable to verify the date and location of the arrest, and al-Watan did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
In his column for al-Watan, al-Shehi frequently reports on topics such as the government’s spending decisions regarding money recovered from a purported anti-corruption drive, as well as the government’s economic policies and its treatment of expat workers.
In an appearance on the Rotana Channel’s show Yahalla on December 8, 2017, al-Shehi referred to the Saudi Arabian royal court as one of the sources of corruption in the kingdom. The journalist said that any Saudi citizen who has a contact within the royal court or someone associated with it automatically has an advantage in buying strategically located land otherwise not available to the public.
The channel’s majority owner, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, was arrested November 9, 2017, as part of a purported anti-corruption drive spurred by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, according to news reports.
Saudi authorities were holding at least seven journalists behind bars as of December 1, 2017, amid a widening crackdown on dissent in the kingdom, according to CPJ research. The country’s authorities have detained scores of activists and public figures since September amid an effort by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to consolidate power among the sprawling royal family’s power centers.