Saleh al-Shehi is a prominent Saudi columnist who formerly worked under murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during the latter’s tenure as editor of Al-Watan. In February 2018, al-Shehi was sentenced to five years in prison for “insulting the royal court” after a TV appearance criticizing corruption in the kingdom; his columns often reported on corruption and were critical of Saudi economic and labor policies.
Al-Shehi was arrested January 3, 2018, according to The Washington Post and other news reports, all of which cited local activists’ posts on social media. At the time, Saudi authorities neither confirmed the arrest nor announced any formal charges against al-Shehi, according to news reports.
In his column for Al-Watan, al-Shehi frequently reported on topics such as the government’s spending decisions regarding money recovered from a purported anti-corruption drive, as well as the government’s economic policies and its treatment of expat workers, according to a CPJ review of the newspaper’s website.
In an appearance on the Rotana Channel’s show "Yahalla" on December 8, 2017, al-Shehi referred to the Saudi Arabian royal court as one of the sources of corruption in the kingdom, according to a video of the segment posted to YouTube. The journalist said that any Saudi citizen who has a contact within the royal court or someone associated with it automatically has an advantage in buying strategically located land otherwise not available to the public, according to the video.
The channel’s majority owner, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, was arrested November 9, 2017, as part of a purported anti-corruption drive spurred by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, according to news reports.
A specialized criminal court in Saudi Arabia on February 8, 2018, sentenced al-Shehi to five years in prison for "insulting the royal court" and imposed a five-year travel ban that will go into effect on his release, according to a report in the privately owned Saudi newspaper Okaz and the Qatari outlet The New Arab, citing an AP report.
On July 24, 2019, Saudi journalist Halima Muthffar posted a video of al-Shehi from inside the General Intelligence Prison in Dhahban taking part in what she called an “administrative program.” Al-Shehi’s daughter posted a video of him on Twitter September 23 giving his well-wishes for Saudi Arabia’s National Day, but it was unclear where he was when the video was made.
As of October 2019, CPJ could not determine the status of al-Shehi’s health.
CPJ emailed the spokesman for the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., October 3 requesting information about al-Shehi and other journalists detained in Saudi Arabia, including on where they are being held, any charges against them, and their current health statuses. The spokesman told CPJ via email the same day that he was looking at the questions and would follow up if the embassy had comment.