January 10, 2008
Via Facsimile: 202-456-2461
Dear President Bush:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to you in advance of your expected meetings next week with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. We would like to draw your attention to the ongoing imprisonment of two journalist bloggers as well as to other restrictions on the press in each country.
We hope you will use your visits with both leaders to express deep reservations–both in public and in private–about the unjust imprisonment of our colleagues and the ongoing harassment many journalists face.
On December 10, Saudi security agents detained Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, a young Saudi blogger who runs Alfarhan.org, a popular pro-reform Web site that publishes social and political commentary. Saudi officials have been virtually silent about the detention; a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said that al-Farhan was being questioned “about violating non-security regulations.” Throughout his one-month detention, Saudi and other Arab bloggers have rallied on behalf of al-Farhan, deploring his detention without charge and calling for his release.
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.
Young bloggers like Fouad al-Farhan have taken advantage of the Internet to circumvent tight government control of the Saudi media. The government frequently reins in criticism by dismissing or blacklisting critical writers and by pressuring journalists behind the scenes. In the face of such restrictions, these bloggers have helped expand social and political debate, exercising their right to free speech in a way that is otherwise impossible in their countries.
“Inevitably, this creates tension,” you stated. “But our relationships with these countries are broad enough and deep enough to bear it.”