French press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revealed on Wednesday that it had sent a team to Saudi Arabia in secret in April to advocate for the release of 30 incarcerated journalists.
The RSF delegation was in Saudi Arabia from April 21-23, in what it described as an “unprecedented mission.”
Among the 30 journalists that RSF wants released is Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was jailed for 10 years for insulting Islam.
“The mission remained confidential until now as the possibility of pardons during the Ramadan period was discussed — a point the Saudi government did not act on,” the group said at the start of the two-day Global Conference for Media Freedom in London.
“Now, with Saudi Arabia under increased international scrutiny following the release of a damning UN report on [Jamal] Khashoggi’s murder, and Saudi Arabia’s accession to the G20 presidency, it is time for the Saudi government to act,” RSF said in a statement on its website, referring to the Saudi journalist and an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family, who was killed on October 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia dropped to the bottom 10 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, and is now ranked 172nd out of 180 countries. Khashoggi’s assassination has apparently further darkened Saudi Arabia’s already bleak press freedom credentials.
The Khashoggi specter
Saudi Arabia has been in the spotlight since Khashoggi’s alleged murder in Turkey. There has been an increasing global concern over imprisoned journalists in Saudi Arabia.
“We were able to discuss on each occasion the assassination of Khashoggi and the situation of journalists, without any exception,” RSF’s secretary general Christophe Deloire told the AFP news agency.
Last month, Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said in a damning report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be investigated over the alleged Khashoggi killing.
Callamard cited “credible evidence” that high-level Saudi officials were implicated in the “premeditated” murder.
“Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law,” Callamard said in her report based on a six-month probe.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the investigator’s report “nothing new.”
International rights groups have also criticized the decision to allow Saudi Arabia to host the G20 summit in 2020.
“Political accountability for Mr Khashoggi will mean that it [the G20 summit in Riyadh] doesn’t happen or it’s moved elsewhere, or something is being done to ensure that the political system in the US and in other countries does not become complicit of that international crime,” Callamard said in Washington earlier this month.