Saudi YouTuber details attack by 'government agents' in London

Saudi YouTuber details attack by 'government agents' in London
YouTube star Ghanem Almasarir tells The New Arab how he was violently attacked by 'government agents' in London, leaving him fearing for his safety and that of other dissidents worldwide.
4 min read
06 September, 2018
Ghanem's satirical YouTube show attracts millions of viewers, mostly from Saudi Arabia [Ghanem Almasarir]
A popular Saudi video-blogger famous for his satirical anti-regime YouTube show has told The New Arab how he was beaten and his friend bribed by presumed Saudi agents in London's Hyde Park on Friday, in what he calls an attempt to scare Saudi dissidents across the world into submission under the repressive crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Ghanem al-Masarir al-Dosari, who amasses millions of views - mostly from Saudis - for his videos deriding the corruption that riddles the kingdom's royal family, said he was followed by a pair of men who were "without a doubt" agents sent by the Saudi government.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the favoured target of ridicule on Ghanem's channel, who often portrays Riyadh's de facto ruler as a little bear he calls "al-dib al-dasher" - which translates roughly as "the tubby teddy bear".

After having coffee with a friend in London's Knightsbridge district, Ghanem - who claimed asylum in the UK - was walking towards Hyde Park with his friend when they realised they were being followed.

The two alleged agents began shouting abuse at Ghanem before a confrontation ensued in front of the Harrods department store, where one of the assailants punched Ghanem in the face.

The debacle, which took place in central London in broad daylight, attracted a crowd of onlookers who took videos and photos on their phones and posted them on social media. The videos, however, attracted the online attentions of pro-government Saudis who started a variety of hashtags celebrating the attack.

Many high-profile Saudi pro-regime Twitter users jumped on the Arabic language hashtags, which included #Beat_Ghanem_Aldosory_the_dog.

Ghanem said the attackers, disguised as shoppers, were carrying bags stuffed with tissues.

When Ghanem and his friend told the pair they could not do this on British soil, and that they had the protection of the British police, the pair allegedly responded, "the Queen is our servant".

While Ghanem was being treated by paramedics, his friend was approached by another man also now thought to be working for the Saudi authorities. The man, who introduced himself as a wealthy business owner, offered Ghanem's friend money in return for keeping the incident quiet and not telling the police. The friend, believing that the "businessman" was another agent of the Saudi government, rejected the offer.

The pair then filed a police report at the station in Notting Hill, but authorities have not been able to locate the suspects or make any arrests, Ghanem says.

"I do not feel safe in London anymore. I am worried about my safety and also that of all other Saudi dissidents here," he told The New Arab.

He says that the incident was designed to spread fear among all opponents of the Saudi regime living abroad; to show they are not immune to the crackdown on voices critical of the regime in the kingdom.

The government crackdown is specifically targeted towards social media, Ghanem adds, because of its soaring popularity in the kingdom. Seventy-one percent of Saudi citizens are active YouTube users, according to Global Media Insight.

"The leader of terrorists, may God curse him and his family" - one of Ghanem's tweets

Sites such as YouTube and Twitter are some of the only ways Saudis can access news and information that is able to sidestep strict censorship laws in the kingdom. However it is unlikely to stay this way under the tightening crackdown.

The incident comes just days after a new Saudi law criminalising "satirical content" was introduced in the kingdom. Those who infringe the new law could face five years in jail and a 3 million riyal ($800,000) fine.

They did this to scare me. I will not be scared. I will continue to call for freedom in my country

Ghanem also mentioned the case of Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah, who now faces the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for sending a tweet in support of reconciliation between Qatar and the Gulf states.

"There are many Saudis who are afraid to even leave their houses in the UK because of what happened [on Friday]," Ghanem added, however, he said he refused to be cowed by the incident.

"They did this to scare me. I will not be scared. I will continue to call for freedom in my country. Freedom for all Saudi men, women, liberal and religious. This is our right."

Ghanem added that none of his family, who still live in Saudi Arabia, have contacted him since Friday's attack. He says they are under pressure from the government to stay silent. The crown prince has in the past sent agents to his father's house, he said, and forced him to denounce Ghanem's work in a televised statement.

"They did this to stop me," he said. "I will not be stopped."

Follow Florence Dixon on Twitter @flo_dix