Saudi Arabia is hosting a two-day media summit that began on Monday, just days after a crackdown on writers and bloggers and a year after journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
Riyadh, which appears to be intensifying a crackdown on free expression, is seeking to shore up its international reputation following criticism over its human rights record as it prepares to host the G20 summit next November.
The Saudi Media Forum is hosting more than 1,000 journalists from Arab and international media, in a first such conference focused on “opportunities and challenges” in the industry, organisers said.
The forum will also host a media award ceremony.
“We believe in the important role media plays today, as well as freedom and independence of the press,” Mohammed al-Harthi, president of the forum, said in a statement.
This year Saudi Arabia slid to 172 out of 180 countries in an index ranking freedom of the media, prepared annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman faced global outrage after Khashoggi’s murder in October last year in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi, a former royal insider turned dissident, was strangled and his body dismembered inside the consulate.
A UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions has said there was “credible evidence” linking the powerful crown prince to the killing, but the kingdom strongly denies he was involved.
Saudi Arabia is gearing up to host the 2020 G20 summit, an event that is set to see the leaders of the world’s 20 richest nations converging.
Rights groups have urged G20 member states to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia over its crackdown on dissent which has seen dozens of women activists, journalists and political dissidents jailed during the past two years.
Campaigners reported last Monday that in the latest move against intellectuals, at least nine academics, writers and bloggers had been detained.
Activists say that some of the nine were subsequently released, but the detention of liberals — in the midst of a much-hyped liberalisation drive — underscores what observers call increasing repression and authoritarianism.
Press freedom group RSF has said it confidentially met top Saudi officials in Riyadh in April to press for the release of 30 jailed journalists.
It only confirmed its visit to the Saudi capital in July after it said the prospect of pardons did not materialise.