Wajdi al-Ghazzawi was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2014 for his work as a television host, during which he accused the Saudi government of corruption and claimed that Al-Qaeda was a creation of the Saudi government.
Al-Ghazzawi, who owned the religious satellite broadcaster Al-Fajr Media Group and managed it from Cairo, returned to Riyadh in November 2011 to help secure funding for his struggling station, he wrote in a statement posted to his account on X, then Twitter. In the statement, he accused Saudi officials of luring him back to the country under false pretenses of helping to financially secure his channel when they intended to pressure it to close. He also said he was barred from leaving the country upon his return.
On August 10, 2012, he tweeted that he had been arrested. The arrest was related to the channel’s inability to pay its debt, Saudi newspaper Al-Marsd reported in an article which has since been taken down. It was not clear when prosecutors turned their attention to the station’s content and funding.
The Saudi specialized criminal court in Riyadh on February 4, 2014, sentenced al-Ghazzawi to 12 years in prison for "harming the nation’s image," according to reports by UPI and the pro-government Saudi Gazette.
The prison sentence included a five-year term under Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which criminalizes the production of material impinging on public order and public morals. The court also banned al-Ghazzawi from appearing on media outlets for life and forbade him from leaving the country for 20 years.
The court said al-Ghazzawi had incited sedition and hurt the kingdom’s reputation. From 2011, al-Ghazzawi hosted seven episodes of a show called "Fadfadah," in which he criticized the Saudi government and accused it of widespread corruption. In several episodes, he claimed that the kingdom had adopted a policy of slavery, and that Al-Qaeda had been created by Saudi Arabia.
During the trial, al-Ghazzawi said that his show was intended to educate Saudi citizens, and he repeated his belief that Al-Qaeda was a Saudi creation, according to London-based newspaper Al-Hayat.
Al-Ghazzawi was also sentenced for receiving money from a hostile foreign power. According to a report by Al-Hayat, which has since been taken offline, al-Ghazzawi was accused of taking approximately US$1.8 million from Libya’s ousted leader Muammar Qaddafi. Al-Ghazzawi said the money was payment for the channel’s coverage of a Quran recitation contest.
On March 4, 2014, al-Ghazzawi’s account tweeted that he was in good health and had been transferred to a prison in Mecca.
On September 15, 2015, colleagues operating al-Ghazzawi’s account on X, then Twitter, posted that he was waging a temporary hunger strike to protest conditions in the prison, including inadequate medical care. His account on X has not been updated since late 2015.
Al-Ghazzawi is held in Mecca Prison, according to Josh Cooper, deputy director of Saudi-focused human rights organization Al-Qst.
As of late 2023, CPJ could not determine the status of al-Ghazzawi’s health in prison, if he had any new court appearances, or if he remained in the same facility.
In late 2023, 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-Ghazzawi and other imprisoned journalists, but did not receive a response.