Freedom of Expression in Saudi Arabia, how welcoming is it?
Madrid- Skyline International held a Facebook live on Monday Feb. 22. Skyline’s director Daniel F. Rivera interviewed two leading professionals in their fields, Susanne Koebl, journalist for DER SPIEGEL and writer of Behind the Kingdom's Veil: Inside the New Saudi Arabia Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and Hala Al-Dosari, Saudi activist, honored with the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism by Human Rights Watch in 2018. The meeting highlighted the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia in light of the reforms it had preciously promoted.
Rivera asked Susanne Koebl about her experience in the Arab world and how difficult it was to work as a Saudi Arabian journalist. She explained that during the last decade she had the unique opportunity to visit the Kingdom when many of the royal family's reforms began to unfold in society.
Koebl mentioned that it was a great experience seeing how things were changing day by day. She felt very much welcomed during her interviews and meetings, and authorities did not directly intervene in her work, though she recognized that she was under surveillance during her stay.
Koebl also described the new reforms and openness as a profound transformation of Saudi society rather than superficial reforms. The bottom line, according to her, is that these reforms focused on the economic aspects of the Kingdom while ignoring most of the time concerns about human rights violations or other social and political demands that are growing among the population.
Hala Al-Dosari indicated that the current government under MBS is trying to portray itself as the sole promoter of these reforms when the facts show that these reforms began before he came to power. She added that these reforms are happening as more and more Saudis are losing the fear of speaking up.
Both Al-Dosari and Koebl described how the country is heading to a critical point. The current crown prince has successfully promoted a culture of fear. They stressed that Saudi authorities should stop prosecution of activists and individuals and abide by the principles of International law that guarantee freedom of opinion and expression and physical safety. They also urged the international community to put pressure on the authorities to halt their human rights violations.