Report: Saudi talk show suspended after critical views aired

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Authorities in Saudi Arabia have suspended a new television talk show that tackled sensitive issues and aired critical views after just two weeks, according to a report in state-linked media.

The suspension comes amid a wide-ranging crackdown on government critics.

The state-linked Sabq news website reported Sunday that the show “With Dawood” was halted for unknown reasons. The evening talk show had been airing on the new state-run SBC channel.

Sabq says the surprise decision to stop airing the program came after just six episodes, which focused on topics including runaway Saudi women and domestic violence, slums, foreigners married to Saudis and other issues.

The show was rare in that it gave Saudis a platform to express their grievances, to press officials like the crown prince for action and to recommend policy changes. This also made it a target of nationalists and pro-Saudi Twitter accounts, who hailed the decision to suspend the show in mocking Twitter posts Monday.

The show’s host, Dawood al-Shiryan, is a household name in Saudi Arabia and an experienced broadcaster who’s also overseen elements of the kingdom’s tightly monitored and censored media landscape.

There was no immediate announcement on whether al-Shiryan retains his post as head of the Saudi Broadcasting Authority. Representatives of the Saudi Broadcasting Authority could not be immediately reached for comment.

Al-Shiryan previously hosted a long-running evening talk show until November 2017, around the time that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was solidifying his position as heir to the throne and clamping down on potential rivals and perceived critics by detaining moderate clerics, poets, businessmen and even top princes.

He interviewed Prince Mohammed for the royal’s second-ever TV interview, which aired in mid-2017 on state TV and the Saudi-owned MBC channel.

Al-Shiryan’s new show followed a similar format to his previous program, with guests discussing sensitive societal issues and people calling in.

His first episode focused on Saudi women runaways. It aired not long after an 18-year-old Saudi woman’s plea for help from an airport hotel room in Thailand grabbed international headlines and she was granted asylum in Canada.

Al-Shiryan interviewed a Saudi woman living in exile in London who said she was raped by her brother at the age of eight or nine years old. She discussed the lack of protection abused women have in Saudi Arabia and the need to change male guardianship laws.

The episode also included an interview with a Saudi male who said he’d fled the kingdom because he had gender dysphoria.

In another episode, al-Shiryan presses a guest about why foreign women married to Saudi men are categorized as “house workers” by immigration officials. When the guest denies this, al-Shiryan plays video clips of several women thanking immigration officials for changing their status on a government portal — an example of how the show attempted to balance criticism with praise for responsive government agencies.

One female guest in a segment discussing unemployment among women graduates of education directly called on the crown prince to find a solution.

“We want our issues resolved. We want a royal decree from the crown prince like (the late) King Abdullah did,” she said.

While Prince Mohammed has been lauded for ushering in reforms, such as allowing women the right to drive, opening movie theaters and permitting concerts, he’s also been widely criticized for human rights abuses, including the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. The kingdom insists the prince had no knowledge of the killing.

Most recently, state prosecutors announced that charges would be brought in court against nearly a dozen imprisoned women’s rights activists, several of whom have been detained for 10 months and allegedly tortured in detention. The government has not announced the charges and denies the women were mistreated.

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