Fouad Al-Farhan is being held in prison since weeks, without any reason being given to the public. But the causes seem to be clear: Critical articles on politics and society threatened conservative circles – and may have made him enemies. An international coalition works on his release – and calls for blog silence on January 6.
Fouad Al-Farhan had been warned: Not just, that Saudi government silenced his blog from February to July 2007 ((Mahmood’s Den | Saudi Blogger Fouad Al-Farhan arrested)) – a few days before his detention he announced it in a letter to his friends ((Saudi Jeans | Fouad’s letter)):
“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.”
Before, he had been “asked” to sign an apology – without being told for what. Soon after this, the “Godfather” of the Saudi blogosphere has been arrested at his office and was brought to an unidentified location by security forces. It is the first time a Saudi blogger is taken into custody for his writing.
On January 1, three weeks after the detention on December 10, a statement was given by the ministry of the interior. It says, Al-Farhan was being held for “interrogation for violating non-security regulations”. ((Arab News | Blogger does not face security charges)).
The detailed backgrounds of the detention are still in the dark. Fouad Al-Farhan himself suggested in his letter – before being arrested – his postings on a group of political prisoners had led to accusation ((Saudi Jeans | Fouad’s letter)):
“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.”
These political prisoners are a group of businessmen from Jeddah, who are accused to have supported terrorism, even though their lawyer claims, their plan to found a human rights group had really caused their detention ((Washington Post | Dissident Saudi blogger is arrested)).
Another prominent Saudi blogger, Ahmad Al-Omran, suggests on his blog Saudi Jeans, that the real backgrounds for Al-Farhan being arrested can be found in the conflict between King Abdullah and parts of the government ((Saudi Jeans | You got the wrong guy)):
“I have no doubt that King Abdullah is pushing for a reformist agenda. However, it is very unfortunate that some elements in the government are not happy with this agenda because it could curb their powers and change their status. That’s why these elements are so threatened by freedom of expression and therefore try to stifle this freedom even if that means violating basic human rights, national law and international accords.”
Al-Omran refers to the lately case of the “Qatif Girl”, a young woman, who first got sentenced to prison by fundamentalist judges, but then was pardoned by King Abdullah. The case can be seen as a sign of the power struggle in Saudi Arabia ((Saudi Jeans | Following the pardon)).
As seen in the “Qatif Girl” case, there is a high international media interest on the detention of Fouad Al-Farhan – detailed coverage can be found from the BBC, CNN, New York Times or Washington Post ((Free Fouad | Fouad arrest all over the mainstream media)), but the Saudi media is silent ((Mideast Youth | Who’s Fouad again?)).
No one can seriously suppose the government will yield due to the media coverage. In fact, a general may have stated Al-Farhan will not be held in prison for a long time, but if the backgrounds suggested by Al-Omran prove to be true, this seems more than unlikely.
To fulfill Fouad Al-Farhans wish not to be forgotten in jail, his friends have started the blog “Free Fouad” ((Free Fouad)). In English and Arabic, it covers the development of the case. Together with other platforms, they have started a petition to support the release of Al-Farhan ((Petition: Free Fouad Al-Farhan)).
Also, they call for a blog silence on January 6. All blogs may be silent for one day, only showing a banner to support Fouad’s case ((ZapBoom | Day of blog silence for Fouad)). Not, that the government will react on this action directly, but an intervention by a higher official could cause Fouad’s release.
What can I do?
- To support Fouad Al-Farhan, you may sign the petition.
- Also, you are called to silence your blog on January 6 and only post of these banners, together with a link to Free Fouad.
- Fouad’s supporters have created all kinds of banners, which you can use on your blog. The linked one shows an automatically rotated quote from one of Fouad’s blog posts, “Why do we blog?”