World rallies behind Saudi blogger



 
The arrest of Saudi blogger Ahmad Fouad Al-Farhan has caused consternation in the Arab blogosphere. Al-Farhan had warned his friends in a letter that his arrest was imminent.
 
By Menassat.com Staff
 
Saudi Arabia, Free Fouad
R.R.

"I was told that there is an official order from a high-ranking official in the Ministry of the Interior to investigate me. They will pick me up anytime in the next two weeks."

It was the last thing Ahmad Fouad Al-Farhan wrote. A few days later, on December 10, he was arrested by security forces in Jeddah.

Ahmad Fouad Al-Farhan, 32, who blogs on www.alfarhan.org, was considered Saudi Arabia's foremost blogger. His arrest, which was revealed only this week, sparked widespread condemnation by fellow bloggers and press freedom organizations worldwide.

"After blocking the news website Elaph and the leading blog publishing service, www.blogger.com, the [Saudi] authorities have now directly targeted a blogger for the first time," Reporters without Borders said. "We call on the police to immediately reveal where and why Farhan is being held."

The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) also rallied behind Al-Farhan.

"It is deplorable that al-Farhan has been held secretly without charge for more than two weeks. We call on Saudi authorities to release him at once," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Detaining writers and holding them for weeks without charge is appalling."

In Cairo, The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) issued a statement condemning the "unjustified detention" of Al-Farhan.

"When the Saudi authorities arrest a young man writing maturely and is against terrorism and calls for reformation, it is a serious indicator of how far the fanatics and those opposing freedom of expression and reformation are taking over in Saudi Arabia,” HRinfo's executive director, Gamal Eid, said.

Al-Farhan is one of the few Saudi bloggers who does not use a pen name while commenting on political and social life in the country. In one of his last posts before his detention, Al-Farhan sharply criticized 10 influential business, religious, and media figures close to the Saudi royal family. His public support of a group of ten Saudi academics arrested earlier this year allegedly for “financing terrorism” has apparently angered Saudi authorities, he reported on his blog.

In the letter to his friends, Al-Farhan wrote, "The issue that caused all of this is because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I’m running a online campaign promoting their issue. All what I did is I wrote some pieces and put up banners and asked other bloggers to do the same."

He wrote that a government agent who called him on the phone to warn him of his imminent arrest promised to detain him for only a short period if he agreed to sign a letter of apology. "I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that," Al-Farhan wrote, "An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?"

This is not the first time that Fouad has run into trouble with Saudi authorities. Last year, Fouad was questioned by plainclothes police and was forced to shut down his blog. After a hiatus of few months, Fouad decided to continue blogging.

Sami Ben Gharbia at Global Voices Online, who was close to Al-Farhan, spoke to his wife who was in no doubt that Al-Farhan's arrest was linked to his blogging activities.

According to Ben Gharbia
, Al-Farhan may remain in custody for a one-month investigation period. After that his family will be allowed to visit him and be informed about his case and the possible charges that might be brought against him. Fouad is apparently being held, without charge or trial, at the Ministry of Interior's security service (al-Mabahith al-'Amma) headquarter in Jeddah.

The Saudi government’s official Internet blacklist affects more than 400,000 websites, ranging from the sites of political organisations to those of unrecognised Islamist movements and porn sites.

Saudi Arabia is on the Reporters Without Borders list of 13 "Internet enemies,” and was ranked 148th out of 169 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world 2007 press freedom index.

News of Al-Farhan's arrest also reverbarated through the Arab blogosphere this week.

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
, a Saudi-American blogger and journalist, who is also based in Jeddah, speculated about the reasons for Al-Farhan's arrest.

"The latest arrest comes after [Al-Farhan] visited one of nine Saudi reformists who were arrested on February 10, 2007, and are still being held at a secret police detention facility in north Jeddah after refusing to sign statements that they would cease their calls for political reform. Fouad wrote about his visit on his blog.

Fellow blogger Saudi Jeans said: "I hope that Fouad would be released soon to come back to his family and friends. This country needs more people like him, people who love their country and want to see it thrive and advance.

A blog has also been set up by activists to rally for his support here.



Global Voices Online contributed to this report.