The press and media in Saudi Arabia are not free and legal provisions governing information were strengthened in 2011 by the enacting of the Anti-Cyber Crimes Law. Cybercafes are subject to surveillance and many internet sites on which political issues or human rights are discussed are subject to censorship.
In July 2012, the Shura Council announced that it was drafting a law to punish those who “criticise Islam” through social media. Women face severe discrimination in law and practice; among other things, their freedom to travel is curtailed by the requirement that they must have the permission of a male relative in order to leave the country.
Several writers are currently in prison or are facing trial. Torture and other ill-treatment in prisons are rife.
Hamza Kashgari is a poet and former columnist with the daily newspaper Al Bilad, held since February 2012 when Malaysia deported him back to Saudi Arabia where he had fled after receiving threats and demands for his trial for “apostasy” in connection with a series of tweets he made earlier in the month.
Habib Ali Al-Maatiq, a 40-year-old poet and journalist, is believed to remain held since his arrest on 22 February 2012 in connection with his coverage of pro-reformist protests in the heavily restricted Eastern Province on the news website Al-Fajr Cultural Network. He is thought to be still detained without charge at a prison in Dammam, the capital of Eastern Province.
Wajeha Al-Huwaidar is a leading journalist, novelist and women's rights activist was sentenced to 10 months in prison and a two-year travel ban on 15 June 2013 for helping an allegedly abused woman in distress. The sentence was upheld on appeal in September. Wajeha Al-Huwaider has been subjected to harassment since May 2003, when she was first banned from publishing. She continues to publish on-line and overseas, and also writes poetry and short stories. In November 2004 she was awarded the PEN/NOVIB Free Expression award at the Hague. She is an honorary member of English and Melbourne PEN.
Raif Badawi, the editor of the website Free Saudi Liberals, has been in detention since 17 June 2012. In July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes after conviction of offences including “insulting Islam”. The charges were brought in connection with five website postings by Badawi and by anonymous members of the website, reportedly commenting on theological questions and critical of the Saudi religious authorities.
PEN International is calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to:
- Release all individuals, including writers, held solely on account of the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression;
- Investigate all reports of torture or other ill-treatment, bring to justice anyone found responsible for abuses and provide reparations to victims;
- Amend legislation including the Press and Publications Law and the Anti-Cyber Crimes Law to ensure that it does not unlawfully restrict the legitimate free expression;
- End discrimination against women so that women writers are able to freely practise their profession, including by travelling abroad to literary events without requiring the consent of a male relative.