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Saudi publisher tied to royals launches Arabic version of The Independent

The new editor-in-chief, Adhwan Alahmary, has been a vocal supporter of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
The logo of the Arabic edition of The Independent

Editor's note: This story originally stated that Christian Broughton attended the Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia in October. In fact, Mr Broughton was there for a business meeting and did not attend the summit.

A major Saudi publishing group with close links to the royal family announced on Thursday the launch of a London-based Arabic version of The Independent, with a well-known pro-government commentator as its chief editor.

The launch of Independent Arabia follows the signing of a licensing deal announced last July between the British media brand and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), which also publishes the Arab News and Asharq Al-Awsat newspapers.

The deal also included SRMG’s management of three other editions of the newspaper in Urdu, Turkish and Persian.

The new London-based editor of Independent Arabia, Adhwan Alahmary, is considered to have been a staunch supporter of the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman throughout his tenure as a journalist and director of digital and online services at Ashar Al-Awsat newspaper.

Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul last October, Alahmary has appeared regularly in Arabic media to defend the Saudi government and MBS against accusations of complicity in the murder.

He also declared his support for the crown prince after his appointment in June 2017, describing it as a "smooth transition of power" and a sign that Saudi Arabia is "renewing its blood".

The visit of The Independent's editor, Christian Broughton, to the kingdom last October, just weeks after Khashoggi's killing, reportedly raised concerns among some of the website's staff in the UK.

Broughton's trip coincided with the Future Investment Initiative, an investment summit dubbed 'Davos in the Desert' which was boycotted by a number of media companies including the Economist, the New York Times, CNBC, Financial Times and CNN. Broughton did not attend the summit.

According to a press release from The Independent, the new Saudi-owned sites – Independent Arabia, Independent Urdu, Independent Turkish, and Independent Persian – will conform to the editorial standards and code of conduct of the British website, which was published as a newspaper between 1986 and 2016. 

The sites, according to The Independent, will feature translated content from independent.co.uk as well as reporting by SRMG journalists based in London, Islamabad, Istanbul, New York, Riyadh and Dubai.

The Independent's longstanding Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, is a well known critic of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman. Fisk recently called the crown prince "America's dodgiest best friend" and branded the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi "disgusting, dangerous, frightening, dirty" in a column published with the headline "Did they bury him with his body facing Mecca?" 

It is unclear whether Independent Arabia will be featuring Fisk's outspoken columns.

In its 2018 World Press Freedom index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Saudi Arabia 169th out of 180 countries, and predicted that it would fall lower in 2019 “because of the gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists".