Does the Saudi Arabian government read George Orwell?

I was having an Orwellian “moment” last night. First, watching Channel 4 News, I caught an item about how the Chinese authorities are trying to control reporting of the bullet train crash. They’ve been texting journalists with (pretty breathtaking) instructions about what “themes” they should stick to (including “great love in the face of great disaster") and how they musn’t ask difficult questions.

Straight after this C4 presenter Jon Snow linked to the next item on cyclist road deaths with the comment “Four wheels good, two wheels bad?”, surely an unconscious (or conscious?) “carry-through” from the China item! It was certainly blatant to me … Then, minutes later, I logged on to read these comments from Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan, quoted on the Washington Post’s blog: “2011 is our 1984 #Saudi #SaudiTerrorLaw.”  What was Fouad on about? Well, check out the story about how the Saudi authorities are finalising new anti-terrorism laws that would, as Patrick Cockburn explains, make “political dissent a criminal offence and would enable the government to jail anyone who questioned the integrity of the King or Crown Prince for a minimum of 10 years”. Who needs the Thought Police when you’ve got laws like that?  The draft laws were recently leaked to Amnesty and when this came out the Saudi Arabian embassy in London responded as follows: “A draft law to assist Saudi Security forces in tackling terrorist activity and currently under discussion by the Majlis Al Shura (Consultative Council) in Saudi Arabia has been attacked by Amnesty International. Without contacting the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia for clarity or comment, Amnesty determined that this law could be used to suppress dissent within the Kingdom, and on this basis circulated its interpretation to journalists. Only after a journalist contacted the embassy did we find out about their accusations. The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia would like to point out that Amnesty’s concerns about this law are baseless, mere supposition on their part, and completely without foundation.” Well, they didn’t like not being notified but they’re having their say and … that’s fine. A form of open political debate. Not something the Saudi authorities normally engage in, or – when they can stop it – even allow.  However, by yesterday they’d apparently had enough of this “openness”. Amnesty’s main website – hosting the story about the draft law and articles of the law itself – was suddenly blocked to internet users in Saudi Arabia. A Chinese-style black-out. Go here to see how the UK Amnesty site is now acting as a kind of “proxy” server for the blacklisted central Amnesty site (will the Saudi techno-censors now block this ….?). To adapt Orwell, all of this is doubleplusungood. Draconian laws and a media blackout. Please pass on the story before the Saudi government succeeds in dropping it down the memory hole.

 

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