The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death is a part of Saudi Arabia’s information war in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia wants to cut off criticism in and outside the country by controlling media outlets and journalists.
According to the Human Rights Watch, there are at least 60 people currently in jail just for expressing their opinions that differ from the kingdom’s policies. Saudi Arabia has become the 3rd most censored country by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The country is using some draconian laws, special courts and regulatory authorities to control dissent since Arab uprising.
Continuous threat to the journalists
Khashoggi’s posthumous column was published in the Washington Post where he wrote against Saudi regulations opposing free speech and objective journalism. “My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press,” Khashoggi wrote. “He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment.”
Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger and a social media activist who criticized the country’s government by creating the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was faced with charges of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “apostasy.” He was sentenced to a decade in prison in 2013 and received 1,000 lashes in front of the public. His sister, Samar Badawi, who is a prominent human rights activist, was pulled from her home in the middle of the night this July. She is still in custody on unknown charges.
Jamal Farsi, a citizen-journalist, blogger and liberal, associated with several Saudi media outlets was reportedly arrested in September. He was continuously tweeting against the VAT and the sale of state companies, which exasperated the Saudi authorities.
Mustafa Al-Hassan, a journalist with the daily Sahifat al Youm, went missing in September. He is also a founder of a pan-Gulf forum that encourages civil society development.
Ghanem Al-Masarir, a Saudi journalist and political satirist fled his country for London after receiving continuous threats from the Saudi authorities in 2003. He frequently makes videos mocking the Saudi Royal Family and publishes those videos on his personal social media channel. He told the media that he was recently attacked by two men in London whom he believes to be Saudi agents.
Khashoggi was the latest victim of such an Information War, who was killed by Saudi authorities inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Controlling media outlets
In 2011, Saudi Arabia funded a London-based television channel named Farsi TV (now called Tawhid) to spread propaganda against Iran. The owner of this channel is a Sunni Iranian citizen who is a critic of the Khamenei’s government. Saudi Arabia appointed a representative to the channel’s board of governors to respond to Iranian media criticisms against Saudi Arabia.
WikiLeaks also revealed that the Saudi Embassy in Senegal funded the Le Soleil newspaper and Wal Fajr Media Foundation to give positive coverage of the embassy matters and activities.
In June 2017, a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia blocked access to Qatari news agencies including Al Jazeera. Their allegation against Al Jazeera is that the media outlet gives more treatment to Iranian issues. The reason behind the blocking of Al Jazeera is that Saudi-led Arab countries do not tolerate the practice of soft power by Qatar. During the conflict, Saudi Arabia orchestrated a complete shutdown of the local office of Al Jazeera Media Network In Jeddah.
Regulating media contents
The Saudi Arabian government also counter attacks damaging media content. The Saudi authority closed the Riyadh bureau of Financial Times, a London-based newspaper, for publishing so called “lies” about Saudi Arabia. The country also threatened the newspaper into issuing an apology about their content.
The Saudi embassy in Beirut asked Al-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper, to change their editorial policy after publishing an article regarding Osama Bin Laden and Wahhabism. According to the Saudi authority, the article was full of “specious arguments” and “false information.”
The Saudi consulate in Berlin ran a counter campaign against the Israeli embassy in Berlin. Saudi Arabia thinks that Israel is orchestrating media campaigns against Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. As a counter campaign, the Saudi consulate in Berlin hired five experienced journalists paid 10,000 US dollars monthly to write articles in support of the Saudi Kingdom.
The killing of Khashoggi might be a wake-up call for Saudi Arabia. Although the country doesn’t give much attention to its violations of human rights. Reporters Without Border director Margaux Ewen said, “I have the impression that the killing of Khashoggi will have more of an impact than usual.”