Journalist Arrested for Apostasy in Saudi Arabia

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of the Saudi-based Yemeni journalist Ali Abu Lahoum. Lahoum was arrested in August and charged with apostasy and insulting Islamic sanctities. On October 26, a criminal court in Najran sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Lahoum was initially based in Sana, Yemen, working as a journalist and presenter for the Yemen Times Radio. In 2015, he moved to Saudi Arabia to work as the executive director of the Alwadi TV Channel. Lahoum also worked in the advertising and design industry.

RSF reported that Lahoum was initially arrested for a labor complaint where he allegedly owed work for an unnamed employer. On August 23, he was arrested in front of his house in Najran, southwestern Saudi Arabia, close to the Yemen border.

Lahoum's arrest was marred with several questionable procedures. RSF reported that his wife was only allowed to visit him for ten days for short periods. He was also interrogated without any lawyers.

According to RSF, they obtained a copy of the document refuting the initial claims for his arrest. Instead of labor-related charges, Lahoum was charged with using social media to "spread ideas of apostasy, atheism, and blasphemy." His account on Twitter has also been suspended.

Sabrina Bennoui, RSF's Middle East desk head, said they're calling for his immediate release. "His arrest and conviction show that use of the Internet and social media by journalists and bloggers as a space for debate and for exchanging information is still subject to draconian surveillance in Saudi Arabia,” Bennoui added.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been notoriously oppressive to critics against the government. A 2020 report from Amnesty International blasted Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, "despite all their rhetoric of reforms," the Arab state is still systematically silencing dissent. This is also clear that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is not done with his power consolidation. The prince has been brutally quelling political opponents and opposition figures. The country's journalists and other freethinkers are caught in the wave of oppression.

Aside from Lahoum, RSF and other human rights watchdogs are also calling for the release of Raif Badawi, a blogger who was sentenced to ten years and a thousand lashes for allegedly insulting Islam. Journalist Turki Al-Jasser, who was critical of the Saudi government. And another Yemeni journalist, Marwan Al-Muraisy who has been detained since 2018.

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