Fahd al-Sunaidi is a television host whose show covered religious issues, but did not cover sensitive topics. Saudi authorities arrested al-Sunaidi in 2017 alongside dozens of other religious figures, dissidents, activists, and journalists amid a broader crackdown on dissent in the kingdom.
Al-Sunaidi, host of the program “Saat Huwar” on the television channel Al-Majd, was arrested by Saudi authorities in September 2017, according to the Qatari news website Al-Sharq and the London-based, Saudi-focused human rights organization Al-Qst.
After a year, Al-Sharq and the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi both reported that authorities began a trial of al-Sunaidi in September 2018 in a specialized criminal court on charges of “supporting the Muslim Brotherhood” and “demanding the release of security detainees.” Al-Sharq also reported that authorities charged him for attending a conference in Libya after the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi without obtaining permission from authorities. According to Al-Quds al-Arabi, authorities were angry with him for hosting Islamic authorities on his program, including the cleric Salman al-Awdah, who was later detained himself.
According to the online news outlet Middle East Monitor, authorities suspended a program of al-Sunaidi’s in 2013 after he hosted academic Mohammed al-Hudayef, who was later detained. The outlet reported that al-Sunaidi had hosted other clerics on his show who were later detained.
Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that al-Sunaidi was known for his moderation, and for steering clear of controversial topics. In September 2017, authorities under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began arresting perceived dissidents–including journalists, academics, religious figures, and activists–including those who were previously critical of the Saudi government, as well as independent thinkers and writers who did not publicly state their support for the crown prince or his policies.
In a March 2019 report by The Guardian, al-Sunaidi is named as one of several prisoners whom Saudi prison authorities described in a leaked medical report as being tortured and suffering severe physical injuries and malnutrition as the result of their treatment in prison. The report does not state which detainees specifically were suffering which physical effects.
The report, based on leaked medical reports allegedly prepared for Saudi King Salman, said that detainees suffer variously from malnutrition and lack of fluids, and have bruises and visible injuries, including severe burns. The report said that all named detainees were recommended for immediate transfer to a medical center. At least three other journalists were named in the report, one of whom, Hatoon al-Fassi, was later released.
According to Al Qst deputy director Josh Cooper, in September 2020, a Saudi specialized criminal court sentenced al-Sunaidi to three and a half years in prison; at least five other journalists, including the imprisoned journalist Ahmed al-Suwian, were also sentenced at the same time. Cooper told CPJ that he did not know on which charges al-Sunaidi was convicted; he said that the sentence included time already served.
As of September 2020, CPJ could not determine the state of al-Sunaidi’s health in prison, following the reports of his abuse in 2019.
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-Sunaidi, 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 returned.