Saudi blogger detained for more than two weeks

 New York, December 26, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the ongoing detention of a leading pro-reform Saudi blogger who has been held without charge since early this month.

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. S

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.