Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

World Report - Saudi Arabia

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 5 January 2010
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, World Report - Saudi Arabia, 5 January 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b7aa9a4d.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
  • Area: 2,152,000 sq. km.
  • Population: 27,000,000
  • Language: Arabic
  • Head of state: King Abdallah Ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud (since August 2005)

The sixth king of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah Ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud, "custodian of the two holy mosques", has been in power since August 2005 and also holds the post of prime minister. The regime has under his rule swung between repression and openness. He had political activists and journalists arrested while at the same time holding the country's first municipal elections.

Maintaining the al-Saud royal family at the head of the state and upholding the supremacy of Wahhabi ideology is achieved by relentless control over news and information. The struggle against terrorism and regional political unrest are still used as a pretext to restrict basic freedoms.

Tentative reforms introduced in 2005, immediately after King Abdallah Ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud came to the throne, were accompanied by a relative slackening in media censorship. However pressure on the kingdom's journalists is still at a very high level and the tug of self-censorship particularly strong. Even though the publications law allows for imprisonment of journalists it is rare for any of them to end up behind bars. Although a journalists' union has been in existence since 2003, several of them have been forced out of jobs after writing articles seen as overly critical of the government. Since the kingdom has no written criminal code, the security forces and courts rely on vague and somewhat elastic concepts of criminal legislation.

Moreover any easing of censorship is more often the result of clashes at the highest political level between reformists and conservatives with their different social agendas than of any struggle for greater freedom on the part of Saudi journalists. Foreign journalists visiting the country are systematically accompanied by official minders who report on the content of their work.

The year 2009 was marked by the closure of the premises of Lebanese satellite channel LBC after it put out a programme seen as "conflicting with morality". A woman journalist working for the channel was sentenced to 60 lashes before being pardoned by the king.

Access to news online has made the job of censors more difficult. The authorities in March 2007 set up a special government commission to filter the Internet to "protect Saudi society" from "terrorism", "fraud", "pornography", "defamation" or "violation of religious values". More than 400,000 websites were officially blocked as a result. Bloggers voicing any criticism are immediately accused of offending morality – a highly dissuasive policy in a country that arrests the authors of "offensive content or violating the principles of the Islamic religion and social norms". Within this framework, steps were taken at the start of 2008 to make providers or distributors of computer equipment liable under the law for any breach of these rules. This means that a cybercafé manager can be sent to jail for any article posted on its premises violating these "moral values".

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