Saudi journalist Abdulhameed Al-Ghobain says he received a lengthy prison sentence for publicly voicing support for Israel without government approval.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
A Saudi Arabian journalist known for his open support of Israel and criticism of the Palestinians was arrested and jailed by Saudi authorities and faces a 10-year jail term, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar Ilan University reported Sunday.
Saudi journalist Abdulhameed Al-Ghobain has been interviewed numerous times by both the international media and Israeli television, and he now faces trumped-up charges of committing espionage on behalf of a foreign country and falsifying documents to obtain Saudi citizenship, said Dr. Edy Cohen, an expert on inter-Arab relations and the Arab-Israeli conflict at BESA.
That “foreign country” is almost certainly Israel, Cohen said.
Last year Al-Ghobain was the first Saudi national to have an op-ed printed in an Israeli newspaper, winning him a huge fan base in the Jewish state.
“Saudi Arabia seeks good relations with Israel and the Jewish people and a fair, just, lasting, and prosperous peace for the region. Some call it ‘normalization’; I call it common sense,” Al-Ghobain wrote in Israel Hayom.
Interviewed from Riyadh, Al-Ghobain “has criticized both the Palestinians and Iran and has spoken openly about his support for Israel’s proposed sovereignty plan for parts of the West Bank. He now languishes in prison on false allegations and faces a possible sentence of at least 10 years,” Cohen said.
According to Cohen, Al-Ghobain’s public support for Israel’s proposed sovereignty plan for parts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley embarrassed the Saudi rulers. As well, his August, 2019 op-ed “almost caused a diplomatic incident between the Saudis and the Jordanians” due to Ghabin’s proposal to transfer management of the al-Aqsa Mosque to the Saudis. The Jordanians were furious, and Al-Ghobain was reprimanded, Cohen said.
“No Saudi can express himself or herself freely. ‘Big Brother’ is watching and listening to every word. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, who ran afoul of the Saudi leadership, is still a recent memory. There is no such thing as a Saudi opposition party,” Cohen said, noting that Al-Ghobain did not oppose the Saudi regime, but embarrassed the Saudi leadership by voicing contrary opinions.
Considered one of the most influential Saudi journalists of recent years, the authorities put an end to his media appearances and tried to revoke his citizenship. There is no course of appeal, and the day after the announcement his children were kicked out of school.
Before his arrest, the authorities sought to incriminate Al-Ghobain by accusing him of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi. They combed his Twitter account to find incriminating material to justify putting him in jail. As they found no such evidence, they resorted to simply inventing false accusations, Cohen explained.
On June 17, 2020, just days before his arrest, Al-Ghobain feared for his safety and posted “I’m being kidnapped.” That was his last post. It was deleted a few days ago, though his account still exists he has not been heard from since.
Cohen noted that much has been made of thawing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two nations that are cooperating more and more in an effort to thwart Iranian ambitions in the region.
“But Al-Ghobain crossed a Saudi red line,” Cohen said. “The Kingdom’s authorities demand that any relations between a Saudi citizen and the State of Israel be governed strictly by them. The Saudi rulers feared his bold push toward fully normalized Saudi-Israeli relations, and were alarmed by his willingness to criticize the Palestinians in public.”
Cohen said Al-Ghobain’s abduction “illustrates the lack of freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia… Perhaps he was ahead of his time, and will yet be seen as a positive example.”
“It is urgent that all steps be taken to secure Al-Ghobain’s immediate release from Saudi prison,” Cohen said. “All organizations that care about human rights should be working on his behalf. For the crime of trying to exercise freedom of speech, Al-Ghobain is now paying a heavy price.”
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