A campaign to free 30 jailed journalists has been accelerated by Reporters Without Borders. The group which advocates for press freedom revealed that it was left with no option other than to increase pressure on the kingdom after what appeared to be an agreement for the expected release of journalists during Ramadan collapsed.
Reporters Without Borders have been in close contact with Riyadh since April. Representatives of the group are said to have met with several Saudi officials, including the public prosecutor and media minister, as well as the foreign and justice ministers. Their visit was spurred by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the country’s poor record on press freedom.
Details of the meeting, which were released in the New York Times, show that the delegation from Reporters Without Borders urged the Saudi government to free the 30 journalists detained in the kingdom. Riyadh’s dismal record of its ranking in the organisation’s annual press freedom index – where it is placed 172 out of 180 countries – was also discussed.
“They took time to hear what we had to say, and to explain why the country is 172 in the press freedom index,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. “It’s the first time they were so badly ranked, and they were of course not satisfied with that.”
The lack of action from the Saudis and the kingdom’s failure to issue pardons for the detained journalists during Ramadan – as had been discussed, prompted the group to release information this week about its meeting with the Saudis in an effort to add further pressure on Riyadh.
The detained group of 30 journalists include TV presenters, editors, columnists and bloggers. According to Reporters Without Borders, they are “the victims of an opaque and arbitrary judicial system, because of what they said in an article, a TV interview, a blog post or even a single tweet.”
The group monitoring press freedom urged global leaders to think of Riyadh’s poor human rights record and over poorer record on press freedom before going to the G20 summit next year in Riyadh.
“When you take international responsibilities, you cannot be in a situation where you have so many journalists in jail, and what happened last year,” said Deloire. He urged the Saudis to do the right thing by releasing the journalists instead of engaging in superficial public relations exercises.