Censorship in Saudi Arabia

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Censorship in Saudi Arabia is prevalent in the press and with Internet access.

In 2008 Reporters Without Borders ranked Saudi Arabia 161st out of 173 countries for freedom of the press.[1]


An Arabic Wikipedia article regarding evolution censored in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia directs all international Internet traffic through a proxy farm located in King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology. A content filter is implemented there, based on software by Secure Computing.[2] Since October 2006, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has been handling the DNS structure and filtering in Saudi Arabia in the place of KACST. Additionally, a number of sites are blocked according to two lists maintained by the Internet Services Unit (ISU):[3] one containing "immoral" (mostly pornographic or supportive of LGBT-rights) sites and sites promoting Shia Ideology, the others based on directions from a security committee run by the Ministry of Interior (including sites critical of the Saudi government). An interesting feature of this system is that citizens are encouraged to actively report "immoral" sites (mostly adult and pornographic) for blocking, using a provided web form, available in government's website.

The legal basis for content filtering is the resolution by Council of Ministers dated 12 February 2001.[4] According to a study carried out in 2004 by the Open Net Initiative "the most aggressive censorship focused on pornography, drug use, gambling, religious conversion of Muslims, and filtering circumvention tools."[2]

On 11 July 2006 the Saudi government blocked access to Wikipedia and Google Translate, which was being used to bypass the filters on the blocked sites by translating them.[5][6]

In 2011, the Saudi government introduced new Internet rules and regulations that require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a special license from the Ministry of Culture and Information.[7] The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is responsible for regulating the Internet and for hosting a firewall which blocks access to thousands of websites, mainly due to sexual and political content. Many articles from the English and Arabic Wikipedia projects are censored in Saudi Arabia with no given explanation.

As of 2014, Saudi Arabia has plans to regulate local companies producing input for Youtube. The General Authority for Audiovisual Media, a recently formed watchdog, will issue a public declaration to regulate the work of Youtube channels. They plan to censor material that is "terrorist" in nature which according to the proposed rule will be any content that "disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state".[8][9][10]


Individual rights to freedom of speech or freedom of faith and peaceful assembly like Shiite Moharram Processions to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain or Husayn ibn Ali are banned by the government. Any speech or public demonstration that is deemed to be immoral or critical of the government, especially the royal family, can lead to imprisonment or corporal punishment.


Saudi and foreign newspapers and magazines, including advertising, are strictly controlled by censorship officials to remove content that is offensive. Newspapers and magazines must not offend or criticize the Wahabi Muslims and especially The Royal family, Wahabi government officials or government version of Islamic morality.

Censorship of foreign newspapers and magazines tends to focus on content of sexual nature.[11] Nudity and pornography are illegal in the kingdom and this can extend to inking out public displays or affection like hugging and kissing, the uncovered arms and legs of women and men or anything deemed to be promoting "sexual immorality", such as adultery, fornication, sodomy or homosexuality. Even advertising for driving classes for women is banned, in keep with the ban in the kingdom.

In 1994, all Saudi women magazines were banned by the Ministry of Information. This move was considered to be related to the pressures of the religious establishment or ulema. After this ban, nineteen of twenty-four magazines closed down since their major revenue was advertisement earnings paid by the Saudi companies.[12]

Film and television[edit]

Public cinemas have been illegal since the 1980s when conservative clerics deemed cinemas to be a waste of time and a corrupt influence. In 2007, permission was granted to two hotels to screen American children's films, to celebrate the end of Ramadan. That following year the first Saudi film festival took place.[13]

Television and radio news, educational and entertainment programming is subjected to government censorship and control. Live television broadcasting on government-owned national TV stations was briefly suspended in 2008 after disgruntled callers on a live show on Al-Ikhbariya news channel displayed discontent with the latest governmental salary increases and made critical remarks of some Saudi officials. The minister of Culture and Information then fired the network's director, Muhammad Al-Tunsy, and replaced him with one of his personal assistants. The minister also formed a censorship committee of which the approval would be required prior to airing any program or inviting any guests on national television stations. The legal status of satellite receivers is in something of a grey area.[14]

In 1994, the government banned ownership of satellite television receivers but throughout the 1990s, an increasingly large percentage of the population bought a satellite receiver and subscribed to various programming packages. Despite the ban, the Saudi government was, generally, willing to tolerate satellite television as long as the programming content was not pornographic, critical of the Saudi government or Islam.[14]

In the 2000s, the Saudi government launched its own satellite stations and expressed a desire to work with other governments in the region to develop common censorship guidelines and restrictions.[15]

In 2005, the two-part episode of American Dad! named "Stan of Arabia" was banned by the Saudi government. The English daily ArabNews published an article that accused the series of "a particularly brutal portrayal of Saudis and Saudi Arabia"; although some of what was being shown, such as intolerance of homosexuality as well as the ban of alcohol, was true. As a result, the two-part episode was banned in Saudi Arabia, although the rest of the TV series itself can still be seen.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dans le monde de l’après-11 septembre, seule la paix protège les libertés". Reporters Without Borders. 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia in 2004 A country study by the Open Net Initiative
  3. ^ "Introduction to Content Filtering". ISU. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Saudi internet rules, 2001, Arab Media
  5. ^ What Is Wrong With Wikipedia? Hassna’a Mokhtar, Arab News 19 July 2006 (http://archive.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=85616&d=19&m=7&y=2006)
  6. ^ Saudi Arabia Blocks Google and Wikipedia SIA News Riyadh, 14 July 2006 (http://www.arabianews.org/english/article.cfm?qid=189&sid=2)
  7. ^ Saudi Arabia bans blogging without a licence by Emma Woollacott, 6 January 2011
  8. ^ http://www.asianews.it/news-en/YouTube-to-respect-Islamic-laws-and-customs-30921.html
  9. ^ http://www.nasdaq.com/article/saudi-arabia-plans-to-regulate-local-youtube-content-20140424-01314
  10. ^ http://news.yahoo.com/saudi-watchdog-regulate-homegrown-youtube-shows-newspaper-151254772--sector.html;_ylt=A0LEVj.lVVxT4i8AiHxjmolQ;_ylu=X3oDMTBsa3ZzMnBvBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkAw--
  11. ^ Jonathon Green; Nicholas J. Karolides (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of Censorship. Infobase Publishing. pp. 494–. ISBN 978-1-4381-1001-1. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  12. ^ Atwan, Abdul Bari; Jihad Khazen (1996). "In the Saudi pocket". Index on Censorship, 25 (2): 50–55. doi:10.1080/03064229608536032. 
  13. ^ No cinemas but Saudi Arabia to hold first film festival CBC.ca 19 February 2008
  14. ^ a b Saudi Arabia profile Open Net Initiative, 6/Aug/2009
  15. ^ New satellite TV channels begin broadcasts By Nawaf Afat, Saudi Gazette, 18 December 2009
  16. ^ Will ‘American Dad’ Define the Saudis for Us? Michael Saba, ArabNews, 15 December 2005

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