Let’s face it: with the Arab Spring now entering its sixth month, the forces of darkness led by Saudi Arabia and its satellite sheikhdoms are working around the clock to cool it down.
At the IFJ Arab affiliates conference two weeks ago in Casablanca, the 10 unions represented adopted a well-advanced urgent programme dealing with the safety of journalists, their role in the public debates on democratisation and reform of media laws, censorship, freedom of information, protection of sources, public interest, self-regulation, ethical media, and the transformation of state radio and TV into public service broadcasting. The participants also pledged to launch on World Press Freedom Day a regional campaign entitled ‘‘In Solidarity with Journalists on the Frontline of the Arab Spring.”
Only days before press freedom day, Saudi Arabia brazenly issued a series of royal decrees amending their Press & Publications Law to criminalise almost anything, not only in Saudi newspapers, but also in online media, including those written by Saudis from outside the country. “All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing ... anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests," said the new laws.
In a blatant kickback to the country’s clerics who issued a religious edict proclaiming demonstration against Islamic law, the royal order outlawed the "infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country's senior clerics or statesmen". Punishments for breaking these laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000), the shutting down of the publication and banning the writer from contributing to any media.
One would think that the free world would be up in arms in denouncing such a regression. By their silence over Saudis’ appalling new media laws, the European Union and the Obama administration have made a splendid art of double standards.