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Press Freedom in Saudi Arabia

Date of publication: 2 May, 2018

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Saudi Arabia is known around the world for its authoritarian rule of law, where corporal and capital punishment can be given out without mercy.

Anyone seen to be critical of the regime runs the risk that they - and even their family - can be placed behind bars, or worse.

This means that a lot of Westerners don't know about life for ordinary people in Saudi Arabia - the widespread poverty and unemployment in one of the richest countries in the world, for example.

All this is changing, albeit slowly. Following almost a decade of YouTube and Twitter, media activists and bloggers are starting to become more and more outspoken with their views.

Saudi Arabia ranked 
169 out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, dropping down one from last year. 

Despite his talk of reform, Mohammad bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince in June 2017 has had no positive impact on the freedom to inform. 

Saudi Arabia permits no independent media and tolerates no independent political parties, unions, or human rights groups. The level of self-censorship is extremely high and the internet is the only space where freely-reported information and views may be able to circulate, albeit at great risk to the citizen-journalists who post online, according to Reporters Without Borders. 

Like professional journalists, they are watched closely and critical comments are liable to lead to arrest and trial under the country’s terrorism or cyber-crime laws.

Blasphemy, insulting religion, "inciting chaos," "endangering national unity," and defaming the king and the state are the most frequent charges brought against those who show a desire to report the reality. They may be detained arbitrarily without trial, mistreated in detention, and subjected to barbaric punishments such as flogging. 

Saudi Arabia has also been leading a blockade on Qatar since June last year and has demanded media outlets including Al Jazeera and The New Arab to be closed down. 

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