CPJ calls on Saudi Arabia to release blogger

January 2, 2008

His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037
Via facsimile: 202-944-3113

Your Royal Highness,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest the continued detention of Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, a leading Saudi blogger who has been held without charge since early December 2007.

We believe al-Farhan is being held for comments published on his Web site, Alfarhan.org. On December 10, Saudi security agents detained al-Farhan at the Jeddah office of the IT company he owns. Security agents later visited his home and confiscated his laptop.

This week, nearly a month after al-Farhan’s detention, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry at last acknowledged that he has been detained, but would not give the reason for his incarceration. Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour al-Turki was quoted by several newspapers as saying that al-Farhan was being questioned “about violating non-security regulations” but would not elaborate. Calls from CPJ to the Saudi Embassy in Washington were not returned.

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 questioning by a high-ranking official. He also stated in the e-mail that he believed he was being summoned “because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue.” In one of his last posts before his detention, al-Farhan sharply criticized 10 influential Saudi business, religious, and media figures.

Your Royal Highness, we find it deplorable that Saudi authorities would continue to hold our colleague in near secrecy after nearly a month. Arbitrarily detaining a writer and holding him for weeks without saying why violates the most basic norms for free expression and serves as a chilling reminder to those seeking to express their opinions. It also runs counter to official Saudi statements in support of reform and a more open press.

During meetings with CPJ representatives in Riyadh in 2006, Saudi officials affirmed the country’s commitment to gradual reforms and praised the recent loosening of restrictions on the local press. We urge you to use all your influence to ensure that our colleague Fouad al-Farhan is released at once.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter and we look forward to your reply.

Sincerely yours,