Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has issued a decree that the media will be prohibited from reporting anything that contradicts the Sharia law or serves "foreign interests and undermines national security." News organizations in contravention of the law face fines of up to 500,000 riyals (US $133,000) and closure. In addition to a threat to close publishers who violate the decree, the authorities can also ban a writer for life from contributing to any media organization.
The Saudi media is tightly censored by the government. The new restrictions come as the authorities aim to quell any uprisings inspired by the recent popular revolutions elsewhere in the region.
Over the past week, police reportedly more than 30 Shiites, including two bloggers, accused of taking part in demonstrations in the Eastern Province, according to activists and a Shiite website.
April 29, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
Saudi Arabia is the regions most censored countries. Foreign and local media find it almost impossible to operate freely. Mainstream media is either conservative or reformist. The law is likely aimed at two targets. The first are the reformist mainstream journalists, and others are the Shiite bloggers from the Eastern Province.
The first group include prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was sacked as Editor-in-Chief of the Al Watan newspaper in 2010 as a result of pressure by the traditionalist elements within the regime. He has since been appointed as the head of the new news channel founded by Prince Al Waleed. Khashoggi has been outspoken about the need to reform the country’s theocratic system to the dismay of traditionalist elements within the regime, led by Prince Nayef, the second in line to the throne.
The other group this law may target are bloggers, particularly Shiites in the Eastern Province. The Eastern Province has been the scene of continuing riots calling for greater rights as well as in solidarity with Shiites in Bahrain.
The law gives the authorities yet further tools for their crackdown against the media. It is an indication of the route the regime has decided to take in this regard, and it is likely that Prince Nayef may be personally behind the tougher laws. This will likely lead to increased tensions particularly from the reformist camp who may see in this law a further deterioration in their already limited space.