“We Are Being Cheated”: Saudi Arabian Filmmakers Detained for Film on Poverty
On October 16th, three video bloggers from Saudi Arabia were detained because of a documentary that they produced on poverty in Al-Jaroudiya, a district in the capital of Riyadh.
In the video, the heads of three households are interviewed about their approximate monthly income, the dimensions of their apartments, cost of rent, and the number of individuals living in the space. Footage of near-empty refrigerators, broken beds, and sub-standard living conditions prompt the film’s host to question King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s September statement that “We are fine” in Saudi Arabia. The documentary in question was produced for the online TV show, Malob Aleyna, which translates to “We are being cheated.”
Six days after the video was uploaded onto Youtube Feras Baqna, Hussam Al-Drewesh, and Khaled Al-Rasheed were summoned for questioning by Saudi police. They were not charged with any specific crime, but were held beyond the initial 24-hour period of questioning, which is against Saudi police protocol. According to Reporters Without Borders, the detention of the three bloggers was an attempt to intimidate them into censoring themselves.
While they were being held, a pair of fellow reporters went to visit the men, but they were not permitted inside the detention center. However, they were able to sneak a note into take-out dinner bags that they bought for their friends inside. It reads, “1000 good wishes to you, may you all see no evil. We’re (Saudis) are all on #Mal3ob3lena hashtag for you!”
After being kept in the Sahafah Department’s detention center for two weeks, the three men were released on October 30th. Their twitter feeds erupted with thank you’s to family and friends for their support.
Saudi Arabia, a country known for its lack of internet freedom, typically uses Internet censorship software to block web content that is offensive or suggests civilian unrest with the government. Most activist bloggers in Saudi Arabia post anonymously to avoid persecution.
Watch Malob Aleyna’s video “The Poor” with English subtitles.
The original video is still available on YouTube and has obtained over a million views since the arrest and release of its creators.