In light of the press freedom crisis caused by the horrific murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, RSF travelled to Riyadh in April to engage directly with Saudi government officials on the need for urgent press freedom reform. The mission remained confidential until now as the possibility of pardons during the Ramadan period was discussed – a point the Saudi government did not act on. Now, with Saudi Arabia under increased international scrutiny following the release of a damning UN report on Khashoggi’s murder, and Saudi Arabia’s accession to the G20 presidency, it is time for the Saudi government to act.
RSF’s main objective in the country was to discuss the continued arbitrary detention of 30 journalists and citizen journalists and to secure their releases. The delegation was led by RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, who travelled along with RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent, RSF Germany Director Christian Mihr, and former RSF Sweden President Jonathan Lundqvist. From 21-23 April, the RSF delegation met with Saudi officials, including Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubier, Minister of Media Turki Al-Shabanah, Minister of Justice Waleed Bin Muhammad Al-Samaani, and Public Prosecutor Saud Al-Mojeb, as well as the President of the Human Rights Commission Bandar Al-Aiban.
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi caused extensive damage to Saudi Arabia’s international image, marking a real low point for a country that has one of the world’s worst press freedom records. A signal of strong political will from the Saudi government is now needed for this damage to begin to be repaired, and we believe that can only be accomplished by serious measures such as the release of all jailed journalists in the country”, said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.
Saudi Arabia has long had one of the world’s worst records on press freedom, with at least 30 journalists and citizen journalists currently arbitrarily detained. For the first time, Saudi Arabia dipped into the bottom 10 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, and is now ranked 172nd out of 180 countries.
There has been recent movement in the cases of four journalists on RSF’s list. Eman al Nafjan and Hatoon al-Fassi have been temporarily released. The detention of two journalists who had been missing for an extended period, Marwan al Muraisi and Abdel Rahman Farhaneh, was finally confirmed after they briefly contacted their families. RSF reiterates its call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all 30 jailed journalists.
“In addition to our existing advocacy and campaigning efforts with the UN, G20 and all international fora to protect journalists, we are convinced that engaging directly with the Saudi government was a necessary step. We succeeded in opening a channel and will continue to press the need for the release of the 30 jailed journalists as the only way forward after Khashoggi’s assassination”, said Deloire.
- RSF has consistently engaged in advocacy and awareness campaigns for justice for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the release of the arbitrarily detained journalists, publicly and privately, with national governments and international bodies, in media interviews, and through a series of protests outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London.
- RSF’s full list of 30 jailed journalists and citizen journalists is available here. All published RSF materials on Saudi Arabia are available here.