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Saudi Interior Ministry says blogger held for

BBC Monitoring

Text of report in English by Saudi newspaper Arab News website on 1 January

[Report by Ebtihal Mubarak in Jedda: "Blogger Does Not Face Security Charges: Ministry"]

The Interior Ministry confirmed yesterday that Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan was being held for "interrogation".

Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, the spokesperson for the ministry, said Al-Farhan was being held for "interrogation for violating non-security regulations."

Further details on the reasons for the detention weren't disclosed and the ministry spokesperson would not say if the interrogation had anything to do with Farhan's web journal.

The 32-year-old Jedda resident was arrested from his office on Dec. 10 and taken to his home for a search by police. Family members say they still haven't been informed of any charges or suspicions levelled against Farhan. "They told us we can see him 30 days from the date of his detention," a family member told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

The family has been in contact with the governmental Human! Rights Commission (HRC) asking for help in the case. The family would also like to be able to visit Farhan, who is married and has two young children.

"What gave them the right to deny him celebrating Eid with his children and detain him for more than 20 days now?" said the letter from the family sent to HRC President Turki Al-Sudairi recently.

Farhan's blog leads with the slogan: "Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation (shoura), and all the rest of lost Islamic values, and for Raghad and Khetab (Farhan's two children)."

The bulk of Farhan's writings discuss Saudi society and other cultural observations from a perspective of promoting more public participation.

A close friend to Farhan, who also runs a web journal, said that Farhan's writings were "not at all provocative and very much rational".

"He's one of the few writing under his real name," he added. "His friends referred to him as 'the dean of Saudi blogg! ers'."

The letter to the HRC stressed that Farhan wrote on his b log openly, without disguising his identity, and that he has "no tendency to terrorism. All of his ideas float on the surface."

The HRC in Riyadh confirmed to Arab News that the letter had been received and the case was being reviewed.

Two weeks before his Dec. 10 detention Farhan sent a letter to his friends predicting his arrest. The letter, which is posted in Arabic and English on his blog (http://www.alfarhan.org), said that Farhan was told there was an official order from an Interior Ministry official to investigate him.

Farhan said that he believed that the reason for his impending arrest was linked to his writings regarding Saudi academics who were arrested last year.

"They think I'm running an online campaign promoting their issue," he wrote. "All I did is write some pieces and place side banners (on my website) and asked other bloggers to do the same."

Farhan wrote that he had been previously asked to write and sign a letter of apology.!

"An apology for what?" he wrote.

Saudi Blogger Ahmad Al-Omran, 23, who runs the Saudi Jeans blog out of Eastern Province, said that Farhan's arrest might be intimidating to some bloggers.

"They will think it's dangerous now," he said, adding that he also thinks that might be positive in a sense that they know for sure now that their voices are being heard.

While in his cell away from his wife and two children the blogger who also runs a small IT business manages to keep his web journal updated. His blog is now run by his friends with a banner that says "Free Fouad". They also made a website with the same motto http://freefouad.com displayed in English and Arabic running an online petition to be presented to officials asking them to free Al-Farhan immediately.

"I don't want to be forgotten in jail," said Farhan in his last letter.

Source: Arab News website, Jedda, in English 1 Jan 08



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