Independent journalist Zuhair Kutbi was arrested in January 2019. He had previously been imprisoned from 2015 to 2017. CPJ could not determine whether he was active as a journalist since his release from prison in 2017. His most recent arrest came amid a crackdown on journalists in Saudi Arabia, including several who had not been active for some time.
Kutbi was arrested on January 10, 2019, according to Yahya Assiri, founder of the U.K.-based Saudi human rights organization Al-Qst, and Qatari news website Al-Sharq, which cited a post from a Twitter account named “prisoners of conscience.” It is not clear who is behind the Twitter account, which has been reporting on politically motivated detentions in Saudi Arabia since March 2014. Kutbi’s son, who had tweeted about his father’s past imprisonment, did not post anything about the arrest in 2019, according to a CPJ review of his account.
The reason for the arrest was unclear. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities banned Kutbi from writing as one of the conditions of his release in 2017 from the earlier imprisonment.
In March 2019, The Guardian reported that Kutbi was one of four journalists being held in solitary confinement and suffering from malnourishment, denial of medical treatment, and alleged torture. The “detainees of conscience” account tweeted on March 7, 2019, that Kutbi was denied treatment for cancer and diabetes.
Kutbi was imprisoned from July 2015 to November 2017, on charges of "inciting against the state" and "insulting state symbols," according to Mohamed Jameel, Kutbi’s father who spoke with CPJ in 2015. The journalist previously contributed to the news website Makkah Online and his own website—which has since been taken offline—and often criticized the government. He has published several books on topics encompassing politics, geography, history, and social and philosophical issues, according to CPJ’s review of his writing.
On June 22, 2015, he appeared as a guest on a talk show called "Fi Al-Sameem,” on a Saudi YouTube channel called “Khalejia,” where Kutbi criticized the country’s national dialogue as a waste of time and money, and said his remarks had been edited out of the broadcast of the most recent meeting.
As of September 2020, CPJ could not determine whether Kutbi had been charged, convicted, or appeared before a court, nor the status of his health in prison.
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 Kutbi, 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.