January 4, 2008

Why blogging matters: Free Fouad

We live in interesting times. I can listen to music, enjoy my favorite tea and blog about the animals I love, while children die of starvation and wars rage and brave people are jailed for speaking, and writing, about things that are true and important. So no apologies for this post, which concerns a political prisoner. Writing about him is the least I can do.

His name is Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, and he is a blogger in Saudi Arabia.

Saudis Confirm Detention of Blogger

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — An outspoken Saudi blogger is being held for “purposes of interrogation,” the Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed Tuesday.

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

Mr. Farhan, 32, of Jidda, was arrested Dec. 10 at his office, local news sources reported. Two weeks before his arrest, he wrote a letter to friends warning them that it was imminent.

“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 have continued to post entries on his Web log (www.alfarhan.org) on his behalf under a banner that reads “Free Fouad” and features his picture.

“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, saying that Mr. Farhan had been asked to sign a statement of apology.

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

Ahmad al-Omran, a blogger and a friend of Mr. Farhan, said that Mr. Farhan had been the first Saudi blogger to be detained by state security. The arrest created widespread anxiety among other Saudi bloggers and advocates, he said.

“An incident like this has its effect,” Mr. Omran said by telephone. “It’s intimidating to think you might be arrested for something on your blog. On the other hand, this means that these voices on the blogosphere are being heard. But it’s really sad that a blogger who is writing about important issues out in the open would get arrested, while there are extremists who call for violence and hate, and the government is not doing much.”

Mr. Omran said Mr. Farhan was one of the first Saudi bloggers to post items in Arabic and to use his real name. At the top of Mr. Farhan’s blog is a call in Arabic for “freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and the other lost Islamic values.”

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.” [source]
Visit his blog and scroll down to read a letter to the Saudi king from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and for RSS feeds like this. More news here.

And for a great, heartbreaking essay on the courage to speak out, read this. Fouad al-Farhan has been in detention for almost a month. Set him free.

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