Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A blogger jailed in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is catching up to modern times: it is now extending its control on speech to the blogosphere. A popular blogger is currently being detained by the government for violating "non-security laws":
An outspoken Saudi blogger is being held for “purposes of interrogation,” the Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed on Tuesday.

Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman reached by telephone, said that the blogger, Fouah al-Farhan, was “being questioned about specific violations of non-security laws.” Mr. Farhan’s blog, which discusses social issues, had become one of the most widely read in Saudi Arabia.

Fouad-al-Farhan suspected this action from the government and left this message for a friend two weeks prior to the arrest:

“I was told that there is an official order from a high-ranking official in the Ministry of the Interior to investigate me,” read the letter, which is now posted in English and Arabic on Mr. Farhan’s blog.

Since his arrest, friends of Mr. Farhan have continued to blog on his behalf under a banner that reads “Free Fouad” and features his picture. The blog’s Web address is www.alfarhan.org.

“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,” the letter continued, noting that Mr. Farhan had been asked to sign a statement of apology.

“I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that,” Mr. Farhan wrote. “An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is a liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?”

He is the first Saudi blogger to be arrested...arhh...I mean "detained for interrogation":

The Interior Ministry would not say specifically why Mr. Farhan had been arrested.

“The violation is not a security matter,” General Turki said. “He is not being jailed. He is being questioned, and I don’t believe he will remain in detention long. They will get the information that they need from him and then they will let him go.”

There you go. He is not in jail for the last two weeks - he is simply in detention, probably enjoying his time. Saudi government comes under so much criticism for human right abuses, muzzling free speech, lack of any decent rights for women, whereas in reality, it cares for its citizens and keeps them in comfy detention centers.

In some ways, Saudi government is justifiably scared of blogs and other such avenues. It has survived by ruthlessly silencing any kind of dissent. Now bloggers from Saudi Arabia are connecting to the world outside and they are not only providing information about life in the Kingdom, but also giving us a human face behind it. Lets hope international pressure keep Saudi censors at bay and they release Fouad-al-Farhan soon.

See the full story here. I'm not sure how effective are online petitions, but here is a link to Free Fouad-al-Farhan petition.