Saudi Arabia is organizing a media forum starting Monday in Riyadh, just days after a crackdown targeting writers and bloggers and one year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Theatre of increased repression of freedoms by NGOs, the kingdom seeks to improve its image on the international scene after criticism of its track record in human rights and as it prepares to host the G20 summit next November.
The first such conference, the Saudi Media Forum, hosts Monday and Tuesday more than 1,000 Arab and international media journalists around the issue of “opportunities and challenges” of the sector, according to the organizers. In particular, a prize-giving ceremony is planned.
“We believe in the importance of the role that the media play today and in the freedom and independence of the press,” Mohammed al-Harthi, the forum’s president, said in a statement.
This year, Saudi Arabia is ranked 172nd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a strong man in the kingdom, faced a global scandal after the murder of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in his country’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
In June, a UN expert concluded that there was sufficient evidence to open an investigation into Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility in this case. The latter said he took responsibility for the murder but denied knowing it before it was committed.
While Saudi Arabia will host the leaders of the world’s major economic powers in November 2020, human rights organizations have urged G20 member states to put pressure on the kingdom.
Riyadh arrested at least nine people last Monday, including journalists and writers, some of whom were subsequently released during a new crackdown, activists said.
In April, RSF met senior Saudi officials in Riyadh to demand the release of 30 detained journalists, to no avail, according to the organization.