Security personnel are seen in Mina, Saudi Arabia, on July 31, 2020. A Saudi court yesterday sentenced journalists Ahmed al-Suwian and Fahd al-Sunaidi to prison. (Saudi Ministry of Media/Handout Reuters)

Saudi court sentences 2 journalists to prison following 2017 arrests

New York, September 4, 2020 – A Saudi specialized criminal court yesterday sentenced journalists Ahmed al-Suwian and Fahd al-Sunaidi to three and three and a half years in prison, respectively, following their arrests in 2017, according to news reports and Josh Cooper, deputy director at Al-Qst, a London-based human rights organization, who communicated with CPJ via email.

“The delayed and opaque Saudi ‘legal process’ signals one thing clearly and immediately —that what is happening there is deeply unjust,” said CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad. “The deplorable conditions and treatment in Saudi prisons is all the more dangerous during a deadly global pandemic. We call on authorities to free Fahd al-Sunaidi, Ahmed al-Suwian, and all other imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally.”

Al-Sunaidi, who hosted a TV show on local broadcaster Al-Majd, and Al-Suwian, chair of the board of Al-Bayan magazine and of the Islamic Press Association, were both arrested in September 2017 amid a wide crackdown on perceived dissidents, according to CPJ research. Their jail sentences include time served since their arrests in 2017, Cooper said.

In 2018, al-Sunaidi was charged with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood party and demanding the release of detainees, according to CPJ research; his sentencing stemmed from his tweets and defense of the Arab Spring, according to the recent news reports. Authorities filed unspecified speech charges against al-Suwian, according to those news reports.

The Guardian reported in March 2019 that al-Sunaidi was among several journalists tortured and denied medical treatment in detention.

CPJ emailed a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., but did not immediately receive a response.