New York, April 18, 2019 -- Saudi authorities must immediately stop persecuting journalists and release those swept up in their recent detention campaign, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Saudi authorities arrested blogger Naif al-Hindas on April 4 or 5 and bloggers and columnists Ali al-Saffar and Redha al-Boori on April 9, according to a statement and Twitter posts by the London-based Saudi rights organization Al-Qst and a statement by the Beirut-based rights organization Gulf Center for Human Rights.
Saudi authorities have not publicly stated any reasons for the arrests, which come as part of a larger wave of detentions since the beginning of April, which have included at least four other journalists, according to CPJ reporting. Al-Saffar and al-Boori have not published in recent years, and al-Hindas's blog has been dormant since 2018, according to a CPJ review of their writings.
The Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to CPJ's email requesting comment.
"Saudi authorities seem intent on locking up any journalist who might potentially have something critical to say about the current leadership," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "The kingdom's neighbors and partners must meet this flagrant display of contempt for international law and human rights with an appropriately strong response."
Al-Saffar and al-Boori are connected with Saudi writer Thumar al-Marzouqi, who was arrested on April 4, as CPJ reported at the time. In 2015, al-Saffar published an article on Israeli ties to militant groups in Syria on al-Marzouqi's blog, and al-Boori uploaded an academic report on the same topic there. Both also wrote op-eds on regional security issues for Lebanese daily al-Akhbar in 2014, according to the newspaper's author pages. CPJ was unable to find any examples of their work after 2015.
Al-Hindas wrote about philosophy, film, feminism, and other cultural and political topics, according to a CPJ review of his contributions to the Saudi culture blogs Arab Renewal and Saqya, and his personal blog. CPJ was unable to find any of his writings after a July 2018 post on his blog.
Saudi Arabia held at least 16 journalists behind bars as of December 1, 2018, according to CPJ's most recent annual prison census. A recent report from The Guardian said that Saudi detainees, including at least four journalists, are subject to torture and abusive conditions.