Jassim al-Safar is a photographer from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province who was arrested in connection with his coverage of protests that occurred in the region from 2011-12, particularly in Shia Muslim-majority towns and cities. In June 2014, he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on charges including sending material over the internet that would harm the country’s reputation, corresponding with a foreign journalist, and organizing protests.
Al-Safar was arrested in July 2012, according to a Facebook group supporting detainees from the region, which cited the Saudi-focused advocacy group European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), and the Awamia Network, a Facebook page with activist-focused news from the region. The government accused al-Safar of belonging to an 11-person terrorist cell, but it was not clear how the defendants were connected.
On June 18, 2014, a Saudi specialized criminal court sentenced al-Safar to seven years’ imprisonment and a seven-year travel ban on charges of sending material over the internet that would harm the country’s reputation, corresponding with a foreign journalist, and organizing protests, among other charges, according to ESOHR. It is not clear which work of al-Safar’s led to his conviction.
Al-Safar took pictures for the website Awamphoto, which also identified him as Jassim al-Awami. The website, which CPJ was no longer able to access as of late 2020, had at one point featured pictures of cultural and religious events and rallies from Awamia, a Shia-majority town that witnessed significant opposition protests against the Sunni Saudi government in recent years. The website also published photos of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia religious leader who was sentenced to death in October 2014 for "sowing discord" and "undermining national unity," according to news reports. Al-Nimr had strongly supported anti-government protests in Eastern Province since 2011. His arrest in 2012, in which he was shot by Saudi security forces, and his execution in 2016 set off new protests.
According to information CPJ received from ESOHR director Ali Adubisi in October 2017 and Al-Qst Deputy Director Josh Cooper in September 2020, al-Safar is held at the Al-Mabahith prison in the city of Dammam. As of late 2020, CPJ could not determine the state of al-Safar’s health or whether he appealed his conviction.
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-Safar, 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.