Ali al-Saffar is one of several journalists detained by Saudi authorities in April 2019. He had previously written about regional politics and conflicts, including the Syria conflict, but like several of the others arrested, he had not been recently active in journalism. No charges have been disclosed and CPJ could not determine the reason for his arrest.
His arrest was part of a wave of detentions in Saudi Arabia in spring 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. The Washington Post reported that the detained journalists—along with other writers and activists detained around the same time—were not considered especially high-profile or outspoken.
In 2015, al-Saffar published an article on Israeli ties to militant groups in Syria on imprisoned Saudi blogger and columnist Thumar al-Marzouqi’s blog and also wrote op-eds on regional security issues for Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar in 2014, according to the newspaper’s author page. CPJ was unable to find any examples of his work after 2015. Al-Saffar, like several other of the journalists detained at the same time, also wrote for the website Arab Renewal, which has since been taken offline.
As of September 2020, al-Saffar was being held at Al-Mabahith prison in Dammam, according to Al-Qst. According to Al-Qst’s website, al-Saffar appeared before an unspecified court on September 30, 2020, alongside a number of other detained journalists and activists. The next court session is scheduled to take place December 21. Al-Qst did not say whether the journalists were formally charged during the September session.CPJ was unable to determine al-Saffar’s health status.
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 al-Saffar, 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.