Blogger , Business person , Economist - Expressed his support for human rights and liberties, the Arab Spring and calls for reform in Saudi Arabia; and criticised Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s abortive plan to sell off the state oil company, Saudi Aramco, pointing out the risks involved.
Essam al-Zamil, an economist and blogger with a large social media following, has been detained since September 2017 on charges including “seeking to stir up sedition via Twitter.” Several news outlets reported that his arrest appears to be connected to a series of tweets in which he criticized the proposed initial public offering (IPO) for the Saudi Aramco oil company. Al-Zamil’s Twitter feed has over 871,000 followers and often includes critical analysis and coverage of economic issues, according to the U.K. newspaper The Independent. From 2007 to 2015, al-Zamil wrote about those issues and posted critical analysis of the Saudi leadership’s economic decisions on his blog. According to al-Zamil’s LinkedIn profile, he had a column for the Saudi newspaper Mecca from 2013 to 2017. In his column, the journalist commented on issues such as Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil exports and the lack of employment options outside of the government for young Saudis. Saudi authorities arrested al-Zamil, who is based in the city of Dammam, in early September 2017, according to the Qatari-funded, U.K.-based media outlet al-Arabi al-Jadeed and an article in The Washington Post by Jamal Khashoggi, the columnist who was later murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Al-Arabi al-Jadeed and The Independent reported that al-Zamil’s arrest may be connected to a series of tweets in which he criticized the proposed IPO for Saudi Aramco. Al-Zamil later deleted the tweets, The Independent reported. The Independent described the posts as saying that the company would have to sell Saudi oil reserves to meet the project valuation, and that the economy would suffer if, after selling the reserves, Saudi Arabia was still unable to diversify. The Independent cited a U.K.-based Saudi scholar as saying, “The regime doesn’t mind people passing insults on Twitter, but Essam al-Zamel is an educated person who poses a threat because he can provide statistics and evidence that debunks Saudi propaganda.” A November 2019 report on Saudi repression by the rights organization Human Rights Watch said that al-Zamil was detained for questioning projections for the IPO. The U.K.-based Saudi human rights organization Al-Qst reported in October 2018 that al-Zamil went on trial at a specialized criminal court, where he was charged with “seeking to undermine the social fabric of the nation,” “seeking to stir up sedition in the kingdom through his Twitter account,” and “attacking and discrediting policies and decisions of the state.” Charges also included belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and communicating with Qatar. A spokesperson for Al-Qst told CPJ in late 2019 that al-Zamil’s trial had not resumed since October 2018. The spokesperson added that al-Zamil is being held in al-Hair Prison, in Riyadh. The spokesperson said that authorities tortured al-Zamil to force him to confess under duress that his wealth came from Qatar.