The royal family’s hold on the state and the supremacy of its Wahabi ideology is based on total control of news. No laws protect freedom of expression and self-censorship is the rule. Stability-threatening regional unrest and the fight against terrorism are used to justify curbing basic freedoms. Visiting foreign journalists are always accompanied by government officials who report back on what they do.
Saudi Arabia is one the world’s most repressive countries towards the Internet. New restrictions came into force on 1 January 2011, adding to laws passed in 2007. More than 400,000 websites are currently blocked. Far from trying to hide from what they are doing, the Saudi authorities embrace the censorship policy as being necessary to maintain social order.
Since the onset of the Middle East uprisings and the start of the protest movement in neighbouring Bahrain, the Riyadh government has striven to prevent a similar movement from reaching Saudi Arabia.
Access to Saudi websites that sprung up in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions calling for reforms (http://dawlaty.info/ and http://www.saudireform.com/) were blocked, along with a Facebook page, “Revolutionary Nostalgia," which also urges reform. Foreign journalists were also banned from covering protests in the eastern part of the country.
In March last year the monarch promised to improve living and working conditions and health care for Saudis, but at the same time exceptional measures were brought in to avoid the risk of “destabilizing society”. In October 2011, three Web television journalists were arrested and held for several days after the broadcast of a report in the series "Malub Aleyna" on the living conditions of the poorest people in the Saudi capital. The website of the Dutch radio station Radio Nederland was blocked after it published an article on the ill-treatment of immigrants in Saudi Arabia.
Evidence of the authorities’ unbending intolerance of freedom of expression was the imprisonment of the journalist Hamza Kashgari for having expressed a personal opinion online. He faces a possible death sentence for tweets that the authorities regard as blasphemous.