Sami al-Thubaiti was one of the first journalists to be arrested in Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s widespread crackdown on perceived dissent. His whereabouts are unknown, and no charges have been disclosed.
Al-Thubaiti was arrested at his home in Mecca in September 2017, according to a report from Al-Qst, a U.K.-based organization that monitors human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Thubaiti wrote for the Saudi news website Tawasul, covering a range of stories from the kidnappings of two girls in Mecca to official malfeasance at a local hospital and the closure of a Saudi news channel, according to a CPJ review of the site.
At the time of his arrest, Saudi authorities were detaining activists, dissidents, media figures, and religious personalities amid a power struggle within the royal family in which Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman amassed wide-ranging power. Authorities said the arrests were aimed at cracking down on people assisting “foreign powers working to undermine the monarchy,” according to reports. Journalists arrested included those who did not publicly state their support for the crown prince or his policies, had otherwise not written about politics, or had not been active for some time.
Ammar Mutawa, who described himself as a friend of al-Thubaiti, wrote in a November 2017 post on the blogging section of Al-Jazeera that he thought the arrest may have been related to the journalist’s Twitter posts. Mutawa did not provide further detail. (As of September 2020, the post is no longer accessible at the link and CPJ was unable to locate it elsewhere on the internet.)
CPJ’s review of a selection of posts on the journalist’s Twitter feed found some tweets calling for unity among Middle East nations, but no posts that were overly critical of the Saudi authorities.
As of late 2022, CPJ was unable to determine the exact date of al-Thubaiti’s arrest, whether the journalist had been formally charged or appeared before a court, where he was being held, or his health status.
In September 2022, CPJ emailed the Saudi Center for International Communication, a media ministry department in charge of public relations, requesting comment on the health and status of al-Thubaiti and other imprisoned journalists, but did not receive a response.