Riyadh plummets in press freedom rank after Khashoggi murder
Saudi Arabia has slipped in rank in a press advocacy group's annual index - the first since the gruesome murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows that Riyadh has dropped three spots to 172nd place in this year's report.
The watchdog said on Thursday that Khashoggi's murder as worrying sign that the "level of violence used to persecute journalists who aggravate authorities no longer seems to know any limits."
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul.
His murder sparked unprecedented global scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.
Close Saudi allies Egypt and Bahrain also fell in rank, citing dozens of journalists detained in the countries without trial.
Cairo is one of the world worst jailers of reporters, with at least 25 journalists behind bar in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"The Middle East and North Africa region continues to be the most difficult and dangerous for journalists," the RSF report said.
"Out of fear for their survival, many of the region’s journalists censor themselves or have stopped writing altogether," it added.
The Paris-based group said that one Arab country proved to be an exception to the overall gloomy picture, Tunisia gained 15 positions after the North African country saw a drop in violations against reporters.
The World Press Freedom Index assesses six separate benchmarks and assigns each country a score calculated from answers to a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts around the world.