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.
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.
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-Sabeel website, 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. In a 2019 article for Arabi 21, Asmar is quoted as saying that Farhana suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.
According to Asmar, Farhana is being held in Al-Mabahith prison. As of September 2020, he had appeared in court once for a hearing in which he was charged with membership in a terror organization, Asmar said. Asmar said Farhana will be tried alongside at least 60 other Palestinians and Jordanians on the same charges, though did not know the date of the upcoming trial.
Asmar told CPJ that as of September 2020, Farhana was in good health, though still suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes. He said that in early 2020 prison authorities moved him from a cell with 10 other prisoners to a semi-solitary confinement with one other prison; Asmar told CPJ he did not know if the move was punitive or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2020, CPJ emailed the spokesperson and the media office for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment about journalists held in Saudi prisons, including Farhana, but received automated messages that the emails were not delivered. The same month, CPJ also sent a request for comment to an email listed on the website of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Royal Court, but received a message saying the address did not exist. CPJ also emailed the Saudi Ministry of Media and sent a message through the website of the Saudi Center for International Communication, but neither request was answered.