By Courtney Trenwith
Kingdom’s 'intensified legal repression', arrest of social media commentators sees it move up Committee to Protect Journalists list
Saudi Arabia’s “intensified legal repression” since the Arab Spring has seen it ranked the third most censored country in the world, according to the latest annual assessment by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Iran also features on the list, in seventh place, while Eritrea and North Korea are the worst in the world.
Saudi Arabia has amended or introduced various legislation to make it more difficult to independently report in the kingdom, CPJ said.
“Amendments to the press law in 2011 punished the publication of any materials deemed to contravene sharia, impinge on state interests, promote foreign interests, harm public order or national security, or enable criminal activity,” the CPJ report says.
The organisation also took into account the kingdom’s new anti-terrorism law, introduced last year, which allows the Specialized Criminal Court to hear unchallenged testimony while the defendant or the defendant's lawyer is absent.
Human Rights Watch has claimed the law would "criminalise virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam".
Authorities also have increased surveillance of social media such as YouTube and Twitter, which have large audiences in the kingdom and are often used to voice protests against issues including a ban on women driving.
Numerous people were arrested last year for expressing independent views in the media.
They include activist blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1000 lashes, and seven Saudis accused of criticising authorities on Twitter.
CPJ said imprisonment and intimidation were regularly used by countries on the censorship list.
Seven of the 10 most censored countries - Eritrea, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, and Myanmar - are also among the top 10 worst jailers of journalists worldwide, according to CPJ's annual prison census.
In many of the 10 countries, Internet access also is heavily restricted. Less than 1 percent of people in Eritrea are online, while only 5 percent have a mobile phone.
Figures are similar in North Korea, where the Internet is generally only accessible for a small number of elite.
Many of the most censored countries also do not have independent media, while even journalists working for state media face daily intimidation and fear of being jailed, CPJ said.