Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saudi blogger behind bars – guilty of blogging

The Saudi government has arrested blogger, Fouad Ahmed al-Farham. Fouad blogged at Alfarhan and has been a noted advocate for reform in the Saudi Arabian kingdom. He had been warned approximately a year ago by Saudi security agents that if he did not stop criticizing the government he could face serious consequences and was forced to shut down his blog for several months. Other bloggers have also been harassed.

He had most recently been promoting fair trials for Saudi political prisoners when he was abducted by Saudi security personnel. According to the website, Global Voices Advocacy,

Fouad's arrest was directly linked to his blogging activities. He 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. He has been arrested at his office in Jeddah and had been led to his home where police confiscated his laptop computer.

He is most likely guilty of blogging according to Iman AL-Qahtani,

This year might have ended peacefully (in comparison to the status of Tunisian and Egyptian bloggers) had it not been for this case that has shaken us. It shows that members of the security apparatus don't have the ability to tolerate the opinions of a Saudi blogger that are written on his personal website. Saudi bloggers have shown that their blogs are serious and mature and reflect what is happening in society, politics and media.

The wife of Fouad Farhan has said that her husband will be held for an entire month and then the authorities will decide what to charge him with. Only then will she be allowed to visit him!

This means that he is currently held without a charge. How was he held without a clear charge being levied against him? Or are we supposed to think that he is charged simply with "blogging"?

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemns the arrest of al-Farhan and the unjustified detention in an unknown place. They are demanding the government reveal their reasons for detaining Fouad.

Free Fouad, a website demanding his release, has been set up by supporters.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released this statement:

On December 10, Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, a 32-year-old blogger who runs the site Alfarhan, was detained by Saudi security agents at the Jeddah office of the IT company he owns, CPJ sources and Saudi blogs have reported. Security agents later visited al-Farhan’s home and confiscated his laptop, those same sources said.

Al-Farhan’s whereabouts are unknown and it is unclear why he has been detained. Attempts by CPJ to obtain comment from the Saudi Embassy in Washington were unsuccessful.

“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 an e-mail sent to friends prior to his arrest, al-Farhan explained that he had received a phone call from the Saudi interior ministry instructing him to prepare himself “to be picked up in the coming two weeks” for an investigation by a high-ranking official.

“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 an online campaign promoting their issue,” al-Farhan wrote in the e-mail, which is currently posted on his blog. He wrote that the agent promised to detain him for only a short period if he agreed to sign a letter of apology. “I am not sure if I am ready to do that. Apology for what?” he asked in the e-mail, adding that he does not want “to be forgotten in jail.”

Al-Farhan is one of the few Saudi bloggers who does not use a penname 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 10 Saudi academics arrested earlier this year allegedly for “financing terrorism” has apparently angered Saudi authorities, he reported on his blog.

“It’s really sad to see a blogger arrested and silenced for exercising his freedom of speech to condemn terrorism and promote political reform in his country,”Sami Ben Gharbia, a blogger close to al-Farhan and director of Global Voices told CPJ.

The media in Saudi Arabia is heavily restricted by the government. Since September 11, 2001, the government has somewhat loosened the shackles on the domestic press. Local journalists have seized the initiative to produce more daring reports on crime, drug trafficking, unemployment, and religious extremism, but journalists remain heavily circumscribed in what they can write and are subject to swift reprisal from the authorities.

The government frequently reins in criticism by banning newspapers, blacklisting writers, and pressuring journalists behind the scenes. Last year online writer Rabah al-Quwai’ was held for 13 days in retaliation for his writings about religious extremism. For information on press freedom in Saudi Arabia read CPJ’s 2006 special report, Princes, Clerics, and Censors.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

This sort of forced apology reminds me of the sort of lengths by which artists and public figures had to prostrate themselves before Stalin in order to ensure their survival.