Outrage: Saudi Arabia's Most Popular Blogger Arrested
Fouad Al-Farhan, the prominent -- and probably most famous -- Saudi blogger out there was detained on December 10. The reasons for the arrest are unknown, and the details are limited at best. However, it seems like Farhan, who works as a manager at "Smart Info Co." in Jeddah, knew that the Saudi authorities were coming for him. The 32-year-old father of two daughters explained why in this letter, which was sent to a friend two weeks before his arrest:
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 an 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. The person who told me about this asked me to 'play ball' with him and sign a written apology. I'm not sure if I'm ready to do that. An apology for what exactly? Because I said that the government is lying when it accused those reformers of supporting terrorism?
The political prisoners that Farhan refers to are the 10 human rights activists who were arrested in February under "terrorism charges" which Fouad finds dubious.
According to reports by the Arab Bloggers Observatory, the Saudi authorities stormed Farhan's office and took him without explaining or saying anything. The Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed on Dec 31 that Farhan was being held. Its spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki , said that the blogger was being detained for "interrogation for violating non-security regulations." Farhan's wife later went on the record, giving a very different version for his arrest.
Fouad's arrest was directly linked to his blogging activities. He may remain in custody for a one-month investigation period. After that his family will be allowed to visit him and be informed about his case and the possible charges that might be brought against him. Fouad is apparently being held, without charge or trial, at the Ministry of Interior's security service (al-Mabahith al-'Amma) headquarter in Jeddah. He has been arrested at his office in Jeddah and had been led to his home where police confiscated his laptop computer.
Farhan, who is affectionately called the dean of Saudi blogging, is one of the very few Saudi bloggers who is not afraid of the government and writes under his own name. His explained the reason for his fearlessness in an interview: "The government's battle is against the terrorists who want to destroy our nation, and if you were a terrorist then you won't be thinking about starting a blog, but you would think how to run away. We are a young nation, and it's time for Saudis to get over their fears and reservations." Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world that openly censors the net.
Farhan's arrest has led to cries of outrage in the international community and across the Saudi blogosphere. There is already a "Free Fouad" website with banners available. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to his freedom.
A question remains though: Are negative press and blog posts enough to pressure a country like Saudi Arabia into releasing someone that they have held for a month without real charges? What about the 10 reformers accused of terrorism? Are they getting any sort of pardon soon?
Gamal Eid, the executive director of HR INFO, had this to say in a statement released by the network:
"Many question marks are put around the real Saudi stance about terrorism. When the Saudi authorities arrest a young man writing maturely and [who] is against terrorism and calls for reformation, it is a serious indicator for how far are the fanatic and those opposing freedom of expression and reformation are taking over in Saudi Arabia."
No one knows when Farhan is going to get out, or if he will stop writing after this incident. He had earlier stopped writing for almost six months when he had to shut down his blog because of harassment from security forces. He then started writing there again a couple of month ago, becoming more "in your face" when it came to Saudi affairs.
What he will be like after he gets out and how the experience will affect him are questions for another day, but his presence is missed throughout the Saudi blogosphere. Friends have volunteered to update his blog with any news on him for as long as he is gone. Farhan and the campaign to free him have been mentioned all over in the international media, but not a single outlet of the Saudi news media has reported on the story. Given the tight control the government has on the media, it's quite possible they never will.
Sandmonkey is a pseudonymous blogger living in Egypt. He is the author of the blog Rantings of a Sandmonkey.