The NY Times reports today that Saudi blogger, Fouad Al-Farhan, was arrested by the Saudi Interior Ministry on December 10th (why did it take the NYT so long to cover this story?) for writing on behalf of Saudi political prisoners:
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, Fouah 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?”
He was questioned in the past after which he stopped blogging for several months. Then, brave soul that he is, he resumed blogging only to run afoul of the authorities once again.
Writing a political blog is a hard vocation even in a relatively free country like this one. So it is incumbent on all of us to come to the defense of those like Fouad, who face a much more hostile environment. As someone sued for libel for expressing my political opinions, I’m especially sensitive to this issue.
Let’s hope Saudi officials come to realize that the power of the internet is stronger than whatever narrow definition of Saudi Arabia’s best interest they might hold.
Fouad’s About page reveals that he earned his college degrees here in the U.S., among them an undergrad degree from Eastern Washington University in Spokane. I’m proud that a school in my current home state educated this man.