Saudi authorities have secretly tried prominent journalist Ali al-Dhafiri and handed him a five-year prison sentence as a crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against rights campaigners and intellectuals widens in the conservative kingdom.
Social media activists reported that Saudi officials had also banned Dharifi – a former presenter for Doha-based Al Jazeera television news network, from traveling for ten years on charges of “communication with Qatar.”
The activists noted that the journalist’s funds were confiscated, and his family was forced to pledge that they would not talk about the issue to any media outlet. They were also warned that their devices were being closely monitored.
Dhafiri resigned from Al Jazeera TV two weeks after Saudi Arabia together with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, after officially accusing it of “sponsoring terrorism.”
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry later announced that the decision to cut diplomatic ties was unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.
On June 9, 2017, Qatar strongly dismissed allegations of supporting terrorism after the Saudi regime and its allies blacklisted dozens of individuals and entities purportedly associated with Doha.
Later that month, Saudi Arabia and its allies released a 13-point list of demands, including the closure of Al Jazeera television network and downgrade of relations with Iran, in return for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Doha.
The document also asked Qatar to sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement.
Qatar rejected the demands as “unreasonable.”
Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.