Saudi journalist arrested and incarcerated for expressing pro-Israel opinions

Saudi journalist Abdul Hameed al-Ghobain jailed over his pro-Israel comments and criticism of the Palestinian Authority.

Tags: Saudi Arabia
Yochanan Visser ,

Prisoner (archive)
Prisoner (archive)
Flash 90

In December 2019 I wrote an article about Saudi journalist Abdul Hameed al-Ghobain who wasn’t afraid to express his pro-Israel views and was the first Saudi to write an op-ed for an Israeli paper (Israel HaYom) in which he expressed support for the so-called Jordan is Palestine solution for the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Al-Ghobain frequently took the waves and harshly criticized the Palestinian leadership as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan while expressing support for President Donald J. Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’ the controversial new approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Saudi journalist wrote things like the following Tweet about Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu:

“Netanyahu, may God keep you and protect you. You were faithful and honest to the state and people of Israel, you were decisive and brave. Israeli society needs a long time to produce someone like you. You deserve to be honored among great people because you’ve made Israel a country welcome in the Arab region.”

In the end, al-Ghobain’s Saudi citizenship was revoked and he blamed this not on Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) but on certain people inside the Saudi Interior Ministry who had remained loyal to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef who was fired by MBS.

The New York Times and other media reported at the time that the transition of power in the Interior Ministry had not been “seamless,” and that bin Nayef had been placed under house arrest.

Bin Nayef belongs to the old guard in Saudi Arabia, and strongly opposes MBS’s sweeping reforms, including the new relationship with Israel.

In two interviews with al-Ghobain which took place in December 2019 I got the impression the Saudi journalist feared his life was in danger after a couple attempts to kidnap him.

He later reported to me that thanks to the exposure of his case in media outside Saudi Arabia he and his family had received confirmation that their Saudi citizenship details again appeared on the website of the Interior Ministry in Riyadh.

Ever since we remained in contact, albeit sporadic.

Last week, al-Ghobain again contacted me and forwarded a Tweet saying pro-Israel articles he had written were erased from his website. These articles dealt with Zionism and Israel’s relations with the Arab world he wrote on Twitter.

The forwarded Tweet was accompanied on Whatsapp with greetings and he wished me a good evening.

This happened on June 15, about a week before the Saudi authorities arrested al-Ghobain and two days before he took to Twitter again claiming he was again subject to a kidnap attempt and also wrote he feared “being bumped off.”

“I am being kidnapped” al-Ghobain wrote and this message has now also been deleted although his Twitter account still exists.

The Saudi authorities accuse al-Ghobain of spying for a “foreign country” (read Israel) and of falsifying documents to obtain Saudi citizenship despite the fact he was born in Saudi Arabia and is a member of the large Enza tribe in the country.

Before his arrest and incarceration the Saudi leadership sought to incriminate al-Ghobain by accusing him of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and of supporting former MB president Muhammad Morsi.

If al-Ghobain is found guilty of the trumped-up charges he could face ten years in prison experts say.

The Saudi journalist had reason to fear he would be “bumped off” since MBS ordered the kidnapping of his colleague Jamal Kashoggi who in 2018 was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey before being murdered by the team of Saudi nationals who flew in from Riyadh to Turkey.

MBS later denied any involvement in the Kashoggi murder and ordered the arrest of some of the members of the team who murdered the Saudi journalist after he wrote critical articles about the Saudi Crown prince during his stint as Middle East reporter for the Washington Post.

During our interviews in December 2019 al-Ghobain went out of his way to heap praise on the Saudi leadership and said he would always stay loyal to the royal family al-Saud while praising MBS as a “sincere reformer”.

“People not related to MBS have done this and they could harm me or my family,” al-Ghobain told Arutz Sheva at the time.

However, after retaining his Saudi citizenship he continued to publish articles critical of the Palestinian leadership and Jordan while supporting Israel in its drive to introduce Israeli sovereignty over parts of Samaria, Judea and, the whole Jordan Valley.

According to Dr. Edy Cohen of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies “Ghabin did not oppose the Saudi regime, but his media appearances made decision-makers in Riyadh uncomfortable—mainly because of the ire they raised among the Palestinian leadership, who complained bitterly about him.”

Cohen, furthermore, wrote that “Ghabin had been in the authorities’ sights for quite some time. They feared his sway over his readers and listeners, especially as he is considered one of the most influential Saudi journalists of recent years.”

The BESA analyst called upon human rights organizations to work on behalf of al-Ghobain and to secure freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia.

“It is urgent that all steps be taken to secure Ghabin’s immediate release from Saudi prison. All organizations that care about human rights should be working on his behalf. For the crime of trying to exercise freedom of speech, Ghabin is now paying a heavy price,” Cohen concluded.

The fate of the Saudi journalist could indeed depend on the exposure of his case by the international media and pressure from foreign governments.

Human rights organizations, in particular, should finally abandon their obsession with Israel and shift focus to countries where journalists are being persecuted for expressing their opinion even on sensitive issues such as normalization of relations with the Jewish state.