Saudi authorities arrested Jordanian journalist Abdulrahman Farhana in February 2019. Farhana covered political and religious issues that have become increasingly sensitive in Saudi Arabia. He also wrote for Al-Jazeera’s website; Saudi authorities have banned the Qatari broadcaster in the kingdom. In August 2021, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Farhana was arrested on February 20, 2019, according to the London-based, Qatari-funded news outlet Al-Araby and Hilmi Asmar, a Jordanian journalist and friend of Farhana, who spoke to CPJ. Farhana’s family announced the arrest in a statement issued by the Jordanian Press Syndicate and published in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Rai on April 23, 2019.
Prior to his arrest, Farhana had lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly 42 years and wrote about politics for a Jordanian newspaper, Al-Sabeel, and for Al-Jazeera’s website, according to Asmar. According to the Al-Sabeelwebsite, Farhana wrote for the newspaper from outside Jordan, but the publication did not specify that he was writing from Saudi Arabia; CPJ could not locate examples of his work for the paper. Farhana wrote for Al-Jazeera about intra-Palestinian politics, regional geopolitics, and Islamist political movements, according to his author page on the network’s website.
Asmar told CPJ that Farhana had not been charged and had no access to a lawyer, and said it was not clear why he was arrested.
His arrest came as part of a wave of detentions in Saudi Arabia in 2019 targeting journalists and bloggers who had written about a range of cultural, economic, political, and social issues and who in many cases had not been active for years. Several bloggers and journalists who previously wrote about Islamist movements or Palestinian issues have been detained. CPJ has documented how Saudi Arabia’s already circumscribed press freedom environment has grown more restrictive under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Online news outlet Arabi 21 reported on May 30, 2019, that the Jordanian Journalists Syndicate had sent a letter to the Saudi Ambassador to Jordan demanding more information on Farhana’s detention. Arabi 21 in the same article quoted the Jordanian Foreign Minister as saying that Saudi authorities had previously told him Farhana would be released soon.
After Farhana’s arrest in February 2019, he spoke with his family for the first time in July that year and has been able to speak with his family once per week since then, Asmar said.
According to Asmar, Farhana is being held in Al-Mabahith prison.
On August 8, 2021, a Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Farhana to 19 years in prison, with half of it suspended, according to Asmar. The U.K.-based, Saudi-focused human rights organization Al-Qst reported that the court sentenced 68 Palestinian and Jordanian defendants to varying prison sentences that day on charges of “joining a terrorist entity, providing financial support and aid to a terrorist entity, and covering up for the leaders of the terrorist group and the sources of his income.” Asmar confirmed to CPJ that Farhana was among these defendants.
Asmar told CPJ that Farhana planned to appeal the sentence.
According to Asmar, Farhana’s wife has been able to visit him in prison. Asmar told CPJ that Farhana is held in a cell with one other prisoner and suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, for which he takes medication.
As of September 2022, Farhana had not had any new court appearances, charges, or convictions.
In September 2022, CPJ emailed the Saudi Center for International Communication, a media ministry department in charge of public relations, requesting comment on the health and status of Farhana and other imprisoned journalists, but did not receive a response.