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SAUDI ARABIA: Blogger in the slammer

January 2, 2008 |  9:11 am

Fouad2One of Saudi Arabia's most popular bloggers has been arrested by authorities, news agencies are reporting.

Fouad Farhan is among the  Saudi bloggers who writes under his own name instead of an alias, often critical of the Riyadh government. A few days before the 32-year-old resident of Jidda was detained on Dec. 10, he wrote a note to friends that was later published on his website in English and Arabic:

I was told that there is an official order from a high-ranking official in the Ministry of the Interior to investigate me. They will pick me up anytime in the next 2 weeks. 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 a online campaign promoting their issue. All what I did is wrote some pieces and put side banners and asked other bloggers to do the same. he asked me to comply with him and sign an apology. I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that.

He instructed friends to publicize his case if he were locked up for more than a few days. "I don’t want to be forgotten in jail," he wrote.

Saudi authorities have told news agencies that Farhan is being interrogated and has not yet been charged with any particular crime. But bloggers around the world have responded with outrage and sympathy. 

They are supposedly holding out for a written apology, so if indeed we do see one, expect it to be completely bogus," writes John P. at One Man's Blog. "I mean, let's face it. If someone arrests you for exercising free speech and then you apologize for doing so, you’re clearly lying through your teeth."

Friends launched a website, Free Fouad, to publicize his plight. Others have noted the irony of Saudi authorities arresting a liberal reformist such as Farhan while ignoring Islamic fundamentalists  who use the Saudi kingdom as a base for spreading their messages. Writes Ahmed Al-Omran at the popular Saudi Jeans blog:

It is a very sad reality when you have people like Fouad who deliver their message of peace and justice detained this way, while extremists in websites like Al Sahat and others are free to poison the minds of youth with a dangerous message that is full of hate and violence. 

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: "I don't want to be forgotten in jail," Saudi blogger Fouad Farhan wrote days before he was arrested by authorities on Dec. 10. Credit: Alfarhan.org