Saudi Arabian columnist bags five years jail term for insulting royal court
By Newsdesk with agency report
A Saudi Arabian criminal court has sentenced a prominent columnist to five years in prison on charges of allegedly insulting the royal court.
The ruling was issued against Saleh al-Shehi on Thursday, just as the court also ruled that the writer was banned from traveling abroad for five years after completion of his prison term.
Al-Shehi, with nearly 1.2 million followers on Twitter, was detained after he accused the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia, the official body that represents the king and crown prince of the country, of corruption during an appearance on the privately owned Rotana Channel on December 8 last year.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has previously urged Saudi authorities to release the writer, but all to no avail. Al-Shehi, who had also been a writer at the state-linked al-Watan website, had alleged on the Rotana Channel’s show Yahalla that any Saudi national, who has a contact within the royal court, automatically has an advantage in buying strategically located land unavailable to the public.
The ruling is the latest case targeting critics of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who in September ordered the arrest of dozens of well-known Saudi figures, including moderate clerics, for not publicly supporting or for criticizing his domestic and foreign policies.
Bin Salman has not stepped out of Saudi Arabia since the start of his so-called anti-corruption purge on November 4, reportedly over fears of internal disorder in his absence. His visit to London, scheduled to be made in early March, will be part of an extended trip that is expected to also take him to Paris and Washington.
The purge sent shockwaves through Saudi markets, with reports saying many billionaires moved their assets out of the region to avoid getting caught up in the crackdown. Rights groups have already described the 32-year-old prince’s clampdown on dissent as authoritarianism.
Bin Salman, known for his unstable manners, became crown prince when a cousin of his was sidelined nearly eight months ago. Saudi royals are clearly fearful that the young and relatively inexperienced prince’s ultimate accession to the throne, which some say would be imminent, will destabilize Saudi Arabia and slide the country into further political uncertainty.