Wajdi al-Ghazzawi, Al-Fajr Media Group
Imprisoned:August 10, 2012

The Saudi Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh on February 4, 2014, sentenced al-Ghazzawi, owner of the religious satellite broadcaster Al-Fajr Media Group, to 12 years in prison for "harming the nation's image," according to the official Saudi Press Agency and regional human rights groups.

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, among other issues. The court also banned al-Ghazzawi for life from appearing on media outlets and forbade him to leave the country for 20 years.

The court said al-Ghazzawi had incited sedition and hurt the kingdom's reputation. Beginning in 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 a few of the episodes, he also 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 his show was intended to educate Saudi citizens, and he repeated his belief that Al-Qaeda was a Saudi creation, according to news reports.

Al-Ghazzawi was also sentenced for receiving money from a hostile foreign power, the Saudi Press Agency reported. According to the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, al-Ghazzawi was accused of taking approximately US$1.8 million from Libya's ousted leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Al-Ghazzawi said the money was payment for the channel's coverage of a Quran recitation contest.

Al-Ghazzawi, who managed Al-Fajr from Cairo, returned to Riyadh in November 2011 to help secure funding for his struggling station, he wrote in an extended statement posted to his Twitter account. In the statement, he accused Saudi officials of luring him back to the country under false pretenses of helping to financially secure his channel while in fact 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. News reports said the arrest was related to the channel's inability to pay its debt. It was not clear when prosecutors turned their attention to the station's content and funding.

Over the next year, al-Ghazzawi's account remained active with tweets originating from users claiming to be a friend or employee and tweeting updates about his status in prison. On March 4, 2014, the account tweeted that al-Ghazzawi was in good health and had been transferred to a prison in Mecca.

In September 2015, colleagues operating al-Ghazzawi's Twitter account said he was waging a temporary hunger strike to protest conditions in the prison, including inadequate medical care.

This 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.