Saudi Arabia: Is There Really Freedom of Speech

gaggedI have been asked routinely whether I ever have fear of repercussions on some of the subjects on which I write or if there are topics I avoided writing about for fear of repercussions.  The answer to those questions is yes.  Precedents have already been set in Saudi Arabia of blogs being closed down or at a minimum blocked due to their content being viewed as detrimental or against the Kingdom.  Bloggers such as Faud Al Farhan have been apprehended and spent months in jail due to what was posted on his blog.  So, yes, as a result, I do exercise caution in what subjects I choose to write about.

And it is not only bloggers who have to exercise caution.  Even foreign journalists in the Kingdom can easily have their visa revoked and be on the next plane out if it is viewed that they have violated “unwritten protocols” on reporting of Saudi Arabia from within Saudi Arabia.  For example, one international journalist published an article pertaining to the Royal Family without coordination of how issues within the article were addressed or worded.  Subsequently this same journalist was unceremoniously told to leave the Kingdom and it is unlikely the journalist would be welcomed back anytime soon.

Expats working for or with the Ministry of Information also have to abide by certain protocols.  For example, if appearing on Saudi television as a program host, one must be sure to follow “protocol” and not raise questions that are viewed as too controversial or in any way could be taken as negative against the Royal Family.

These are simply facts of what one has to accept living and working in Saudi Arabia.  However, this post would not be complete without adding that additional freedoms in speech have been gained in Saudi Arabia.  As early as two years ago articles and discussions pertaining to human rights abuses, problems such as drugs or drug trafficking, religious freedoms would have been stifled and buried under the carpet so to speak.  Now one will see such articles not only written by international journalists and bloggers in Saudi Arabia but appearing in the Saudi media by Saudis.


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