Saudi Arabia expels six Iranian journalists ahead of Hajj


There is a history of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the Hajj pilgrimage [Getty]

Iran announced on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has expelled six state media journalists after they were detained for nearly a week, in the run up to the Hajj pilgrimage.

According to Iranian state TV, the journalists were detained while in Medina. No further details were given about what sparked their detention, but they said they were questioned for several hours before they were taken to a detention centre.

Saudi Arabia’s Centre for International Communication told the Associated Press the men had been working in violation of the visas they received, which only allowed them to perform Hajj, not work as journalists.

They “engaged in activities that are incompatible with the type of visas granted to them in violation of the kingdom’s residency regulations,” the centre said.

One of those detained was a journalist from Iran’s Arabic-language Al Alam channel, while another state TV journalist was detained when they got out of a car to attend a prayer service with Iranian pilgrims. A radio journalist was also detained at a hotel in Medina.

“They were carrying out their normal and routine tasks when this happened and they were arrested,” Peyman Jebeli, the head of Iran’s state broadcaster said. “We are not aware of the reason they were arrested and sent back to the country.”

The incident came a year after Riyadh and Tehran reached a Chinese-mediated d├ętente, which restored ties despite Saudi Arabia still being locked in a stalemated war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran severed ties in 2016 after Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of Shia cleric Nimr Al-Nimr.

Iranian state media reported last month that Iranian Muslims have started travelling to the kingdom for the Umrah pilgrimage, after they were barred for almost a decade.

There is a history of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the Hajj pilgrimage.

Former Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini encouraged his followers to stage political demonstrations during the Hajj and this culminated in a 1987 incident where Saudi security forces massacred an estimated 400 rioting Iranian pilgrims.

Iranian pilgrims were banned from Saudi Arabia for four years after this.



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