Bader al-Ibrahim, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen, was one of a group of journalists detained in April 2019 who did not appear to be active in the last couple of years. His writing had analyzed regional politics and conflicts through the lens of sectarianism and identity. No charges against him have been disclosed.
Al-Ibrahim wrote extensively for Al-Arabi al-Jadeed, a U.K.-based online publication with Qatari funding, until May 2017. His writing looked at Arab identity and sectarian politics in the region, as well as topics such as international economics and whether democracy is a solution to terrorism, racism in the Gulf region, and the links between the Islamic State militant group and political Islam, according to a CPJ review of his work.
According to a 2014 Global Post article, al-Ibrahim is an advocate for Arab nationalism and opposes political Islam, due to what he sees as its potential to deepen sectarian divides. According to the article, al-Ibrahim contributed to a collection of essays on Arab identity that was later removed from sale at the Riyadh International Book Fair because Saudi authorities were “uncomfortable” with the subject matter.
Al-Ibrahim had also been active with the movement to end the ban on women driving, according to The New York Times.
Al-Ibrahim was one of several writers arrested April 4, according to The Associated Press and the London-based human rights organization Al-Qst. CPJ could not determine where al-Ibrahim was arrested or where he was initially held.
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.
According to an April 5, 2019, article in The Washington Post, the U.S. Department of State was aware of al-Ibrahim’s arrest and was providing consular services. As of September 2020, al-Ibrahim is held in Al-Hair Prison in Riyadh, according to his cousin, Ali Al Ahmed. According to Al-Qst’s website, al-Ibrahim 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.
According to human rights groups, Saudi authorities have banned visitors from prisons since March 2020 due to COVID-19; al Ahmed told CPJ that al-Ibrahim had been allowed occasional family visits until the beginning of pandemic and that since April 2020 he has been allowed infrequent phone calls with his family. Al Ahmed said that he did not have any updates on al-Ibrahim’s health or treatment in prison, adding that the phone calls are closely monitored by authorities.
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-Ibrahim, 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.