Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

In addition to Trump-linked Republicans mounting a smear campaign against murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, we now have Fox News contributors downplaying threats to freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia by claiming it’s not really that bad.

Fox News economic analyst and contributor Jonas Max Ferris was discussing with host Neil Cavuto on Saturday the kingdom’s massive investment fund with various U.S. economic sectors—including Silicon Valley giants—as a strategy to compensate for falling oil revenues.

Because potential investment deals could total in the billions of dollars, President Donald Trump’s refusal to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for Khashoggi’s disappearance, torture, beheading, and dismemberment is seen as something “possibly good,” according to Ferris.

“They’re turning their oil revenues slowly into an investment fund that keeps Silicon Valley, it’s one of the major sources for that,” Ferris said.

“And we want to be part of that,” Cavuto chimed in.

“Of course we do, which is why in some ways the president’s not being diplomatic, which is possibly good. At the end of the day investors know Saudi Arabia isn’t really the enemy,” Ferris said.

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He added (emphasis mine): “Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world, believe it or not.”

Ferris cited a database compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that lists only one journalist as having been killed in Saudi Arabia between 1992 and 2018.

Of note, Khashoggi was not killed in Saudi Arabia, but rather Turkey, because he had been banned by Saudi authorities from writing in newspapers, appearing on television, or attending conferences after he criticized Donald Trump in 2016, the Middle East Eye and other news outlets reported at the time.

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In a 2017 human rights report, the U.S. State Department noted that, “Khashoggi said he moved to the United States in ‘self-exile’ and ‘could face arrest upon returning home’ due to his writing. He claimed his column in Saudi newspaper al-Hayat had been cancelled under political pressure.”

CPJ has other information the Fox News contributor could have cited, but chose not to. Just last month, it published an article noting that the “new” Saudi Arabia is ushering in an “even more repressive climate for journalists.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Since becoming crown prince in July 2017, Salman has directed a wide-ranging crackdown on dissidents under the guise of fighting corruption and extremism. Though he touts the need to modernize and open Saudi Arabia, Salman’s reform agenda has become an effective way to remove independent voices.

Saudi Arabia was already one of the world’s most heavily censored countries. But under Salman’s rule, authorities have wielded state mechanisms ostensibly focused on terrorism to silence journalists, including [Marwan] al-Mureisi. In February, CPJ documented how a specialized criminal court sentenced prominent columnist Saleh al-Shehi to five years in prison for “insulting the royal court” after the journalist commented on allegations of corruption on TV and in his writing.

The specialized criminal court is part of a system established in 2008 to prosecute terrorism-related cases, but CPJ has found the system is increasingly used to try journalists and perceived dissidents.

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The CPJ said it is investigating the possible jailing of at least 10 other journalists since bin Salman took power, although “news of detentions sometimes doesn’t surface for months.”

On its list of the 10 most censored countries in 2015, the CPJ ranked Saudi Arabia third, after Eritrea and North Korea. It noted:

The Saudi government has progressively intensified legal repression since the Arab Spring. Amendments to the press law in 2011 punished the publication of any materials deemed to contravene sharia, impinge on state interests, promote foreign interests, harm public order or national security, or enable criminal activity. In 2014, the government issued a new anti-terrorism law and regulations that Human Rights Watch said will “criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam.”

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The report added:

A string of arrests and prosecutions of those expressing independent views took place in 2014. Many of those arrested were accused of press-related charges after covering protests. In October the government used a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge at least seven Saudis in connection with their use of Twitter to allegedly criticize the authorities and to call for women to be allowed to drive.

To his credit, Cavuto pushed back on Ferris’ ridiculous comments, saying, “They’re not saints.” But then he added that Khashoggi’s death had “disproportionately skewed the picture.”

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Here’s an idea: Since Ferris thinks Saudi Arabia is so safe for reporters, Fox News should send him to Riyadh to personally cover bin Salman’s own investigation of himself for Khashoggi’s torture and killing. I’m sure he’ll be just fine.

Watch: