Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Restrictions

By: Roxana Farahmand on 9 May 2011

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has issued a new Royal Decree introducing sweeping restrictions on the country’s media, with considerable fines and even closure of news organizations that “undermine national security.” The restrictions, which extend to writers as well, bar the media from reporting anything that contradicts the strict Islamic Sharia law or serves "foreign interests and undermines national security."

The decree bans a number of things from being reported, including anything that "contradicts rulings of the Islamic Sharia [law] or regulations in force," that "calls for disturbing the country's security, or its public order, or services foreign interests that contradict national interests," that "causes sectarianism or that spreads divisions between citizens," or that "damages public affairs in the country." The new decree also prohibits anything that violates the "reputation, dignity, or the slander or libel" of the chief mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or any other government official or government institution, and publishing proceedings from investigations or court trials without official consent. These restrictions extend to online expression.

The Saudi media, which is tightly controlled by the Saudi government, is owned largely in part by those closely linked to the Al-Saud family that currently rules Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy. The new restrictions would impose fines up to 500,000 riyals (USD 133,000), or even closure, on news organizations that do not stick "to objective and constructive criticism that serves the general interest." Writers that contributed to news organizations can also face a lifetime ban.

The new restrictions come amid new anti-government protests in the country’s oil-rich eastern region. The protests were fueled by the brutal Saudi crackdown on Bahraini protesters. More than 160 protesters, including two bloggers, have been arrested since February, according to Human Rights Watch.