Ali al-Omari

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Ali al-Omari, chairman of TV channel 4Shbab and a talk show personality, was arrested in 2017, one of many prominent religious media figures swept up in Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s wide-ranging crackdown against dissent. He faces at least 30 terrorism-related charges, including "forming a terrorist youth organization," and a potential death sentence.

Al-Omari was detained either on September 9 or September 10, 2017, according to Reuters and the Saudi human rights-focused X account Prisoners of Conscience. CPJ has not determined what person or organization is behind the X account.

4Shbab was started in 2009 by an Egyptian entrepreneur as an Islamic version of MTV. Al-Omari’s personal website, which CPJ accessed via the internet archive, lists him as the chairman of the channel, as does a 2016 report in the Saudi newspaper Okaz, and Al-Jazeera reported in September 2018 that al-Omari had directed the channel. 

Videos on 4Shbab’s YouTube channel indicate that since at least mid-2017, it adopted talk show-style programming focused on religious and cultural issues. Videos of al-Omari feature him giving lectures or conducting interviews in a talk show format. Al-Omari also regularly posted clips of his speeches and talk show discussions on his personal YouTube channel, which has more than 1 million page views and is linked to 4Shbab’s YouTube channel, covering topics such as applying religion in daily life and the Syrian revolution. 

Al-Omari also published articles on his own website on issues ranging from religion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Saudi-focused human rights group Al-Qst quoted a press release issued on September 11, 2017, from the Saudi Presidency of State Security, a government entity that acts as an umbrella for the kingdom’s counter-terrorism, intelligence, and security forces, as saying that an unspecified number of unnamed suspects were arrested for their "espionage activities" and for "working for foreign agencies against the security, interests, way of life, resources and communal peace of the kingdom with the aim of stirring up dissent and damaging the fabric of society." The article did not mention al-Omari by name but included a photo of him, among other Saudi religious and public figures who were detained around the same time.

In September 2018, The Wall Street Journal and the Qatari outlet Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that Saudi authorities had begun trying al-Omari in a specialized criminal court on at least 30 terrorism-related charges, including "forming a terrorist youth organization." Both outlets also reported that Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor was seeking the death penalty for al-Omari.

Middle East Eye reported on May 21, 2019, that al-Omari was one of three defendants who had been sentenced to death by a Saudi court, but Al-Qst Director Yahya Assiri denied this in a tweet, saying that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for the three, but that no sentence had been handed down and that the trial was ongoing.

In June 2020, Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that authorities had paused the trial several times before reopening the investigation into al-Omari and other defendants. 

According to a September 2022 tweet from the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, al-Omari was held in solitary confinement for more than a year and barred from meeting with a lawyer. Al Qst also reported that he had been held in solitary confinement and beaten, including with electric shocks and cigarette burns on his body, without specifying when. According to a September 2023 tweet by Prisoners of Conscience, al-Omari suffered kidney failure as a result of his treatment in prison. 

As of late 2023, CPJ could not determine the status of al-Omari’s trial.

In late 2023, 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 al-Omari and other imprisoned journalists, but did not receive a response.