DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A government-linked Saudi news website reported Thursday that King Salman ordered an investigation and trial of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood scholar and a television host after an episode that was critical of his predecessor King Abdullah's policies toward the outlawed Islamist group.
Sabq news website, quoting unnamed Information Ministry officials, said the king also banned talk show host Abdullah al-Modifer and his guest Mohsen al-Awaji from appearing in the media. The controversial episode had aired earlier this week on the satellite television channel Rotana Khalijia, primarily owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The channel has reportedly stopped broadcasting the show.
Al-Awaji had called for reconciliation with Islamists and said that people will forget Abdullah and his reign. In ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, any criticism of the king — dead or alive— is a criminal offense.
The kingdom and other wealthy Gulf Arab nations backed Egypt's military as it ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group after just one year in power. Gulf monarchs view political opposition movements, particularly those affiliated with the Brotherhood, as a threat to their rule.
Under Abdullah, who died in January, Saudi Arabia, like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
During his interview, al-Awaji criticized Egypt's current military-backed leaders, asking if they would "have been able to carry out what they did... without the stance of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia."
Al-Awaji also said local media would forget Abdullah, "because loyalty does not come from fear and fright," adding that "real loyalty comes from reconciliation, rehabilitation and honesty."
Alexandra El Khazen, head of the Middle East and North Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders, said the media rights group condemns the decision to interrogate the television presenter and his guest for criticizing the kingdom's foreign policy. She said al-Modifer is being sued simply for doing his job.
"Shutting down permanently the TV program underlines the systematic persecution of information actors who dare to debate about sensitive topics," El Khazen said.