CNN is reporting that jailed Saudi blogger Fuad al-Farhan may be released from detention soon, according to Ministry of the Interior sources. A great deal of international attention has been focused on al-Farhan’s issue, with support coming in from other Saudi and Arab bloggers. The US State Department even noted it in yesterday’s daily press briefing [Scroll down the linked page].

Friend and fellow Saudi blogger petitions for al-Farhan’s release

CNN) — A Saudi blogger arrested in December could be freed soon, a spokesman for the kingdom’s Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

No details about any charges or a release date have been announced. However, a friend and fellow Saudi blogger told CNN that Fouad al-Farhan was arrested because he wrote about political issues.

Al-Farhan, operator of the Web site, was arrested December 10. In an e-mail posted on the site since his arrest, he told friends that he faced arrest for his support of 10 reform advocates the Saudi government accuses of supporting terrorism.

The 32-year-old blogger is one of the few Saudi Web commentators who uses his own name, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. He was was arrested at his Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, office by government agents who also seized his laptop from his home, the organization said in a statement issued in late December.

[Thanks to 'Saudi in the US' for drawing my attention to this piece, as well as his comment that while international media coverage may not have forced this decision, it doesn't hurt.]

Perhaps even more importantly, Saudi media is addressing the case as well. This piece from Arab News discusses the importance of blogs to freedom of expression and freedom to think. It notes that when governments do not publicly talk about matters, the public will move to fill in the void, rightly or wrongly. What’s most startling about this piece is that it is talking about a Saudi jailed by Saudi authorities for political thought. Up until this piece, Saudi media was deaf and dumb when it came to the question of political prisoners. This is a signal event.

How Free Is the Blogosphere?
Abeer Mishkhas,

When we congratulate ourselves on the expanding role of the media in Saudi Arabia, we do this with a sense of the different atmosphere surrounding us; there are still social problems, which we journalists cannot write about and there are still attitudes, which are anything but tolerant.

Tolerance is of course viewed subjectively here, and we know from experience that tolerance can enable us to say many things that have been buried in our hearts and minds for ages.

And yet despite our good intentions, we still use the brakes to stop ourselves from going in too deeply; and we do that either consciously or not.

The news of the arrest in Jeddah on Dec. 10 of Saudi blogger Fouad Farhan will be seen by many as a setback at a time when international news agencies had begun quoting our newspapers on some of our most important and sensitive issues.

January:03:2008 - 11:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink
11 Responses to “Jailed Saudi Blogger Gains Attention,
Perhaps Freedom”
  1. 1
    Saudi in US Said:
    January:03:2008 - 12:52 

    I think the Qatif girl case will have a far reaching impact on Saudi. For the first time the Saudi government had to deal with the issue of diversity and speed of the media in the new era.

    Saudi had to deal with similar situations in the past, an example that comes to mind is the “Death of a Princess” documentary controversy of the 80′s, but that story took months to develop. Similar to bloggers learning about the red-lines that should not be crossed, the government is learning how to deal with decisions that may provoke the sensibility of the world. The reaction could be fast containment and hopefully in the future a more proactive role where the right decisions are made before a story gets out.

    I am not sure what are the decision points are in Fouad’s case , but getting questions from international press agencies about the arrest may have played a role especially soon after the intensive media coverage of the Qatif girl case.

  2. 2
    Sparky Said:
    January:03:2008 - 12:59 

    Abeer said, “This sense of freedom is now at risk. According to some Saudi bloggers, Farhan’s arrest is making them think twice before posting comments that they might get in trouble for.”

    Why? People are not children. My advice is to not be afraid at all. Fear is just a hindrance to progress.

    Do not sit around and wait for the worst. Take positive action steps and expect the best while keeping in mind the well being of the of the majority will always be your safe place to fall!

    I am a cheerleader. Rah Rah Rah!!!

  3. 3
    Saudi in US Said:
    January:03:2008 - 13:19 


    I love your enthusiasm. If you ever decide to write a blog, I think the name “Cheerleader in Al Derah” would be perfect :)

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    January:03:2008 - 15:21 

    Your comments raise two points:

    1. How effectively can one blog from jail?
    2. Outside pressure can also be used as an excuse to stop change.

    There is clearly an imbalance of power between governments–particularly authoritarian governments–and bloggers. See Egypt and China for stark examples. Governments can be pushed, but only to the point they accept being pushed. Sometimes a martyr to a cause can make a difference; sometimes the only difference is in whether you have curtains or bars on the windows.

    I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard Saudis rejecting change ‘because that’s what (pick the foreign government) wants us to do!’ With time, education, and luck, the number of those who seize upon this excuse will diminish. Until then, though, they still represent a force that needs to be considered.

  5. 5
    Sparky Said:
    January:03:2008 - 15:27 

    Saudi in the US… Thank you for the compliment.

    I always appreciate your feedback and input which are always very intellectually and eloquently stated.

  6. 6
    Sparky Said:
    January:03:2008 - 15:35 

    John. Your points are well taken but the only force I ever consider is myself! Personally whether I am behind bars or a behind curtains, I will not let people dictate to me how to think or feel.

    Can a entire population be silenced, can an entire population be put behind bars? Consider that force.

    People are really near darn fed up already! I think that Saudi Arabia with its Islamic heritage encourages healthy thinking and feeling. Do we want to live in a world of followers and not questioners? I think most people would say no.

  7. 7
    John Burgess Said:
    January:03:2008 - 16:09 

    There’s a difference between having opinions (free for all, at least until they start monitoring brain waves) and expressing those opinions. The abilities of states to control expression of opinions are nowhere near as thorough as they’ve been in the past–think the USSR or various police states–but they can still be considerable.

    It is chilling to realize that a state has the power to pull you away from your life, family, and work simply because you’ve stated an unpopular opinion. But it’s not just states that punish unpopular opinions, either. We can find instances in public life in the US, Europe, and basically around the world.

    I’m an extremely strong believer in the right to express opinions, even when those opinions are odious, noxious, intolerant, racist, and ignorant. (I am not, however, an absolutist.) I do think that governments should have extremely little–almost nothing, in fact–to say about people’s expressions of opinion.

  8. 8
    Saudi in US Said:
    January:03:2008 - 17:19 

    2. Outside pressure can also be used as an excuse to stop change.

    John, I agree with your second point. In certain situations outside pressure can have a negative impact. Here are some of my thoughts on this:

    - Outside pressure in areas of religion and traditions that are part of the identity of Saudis will be viewed negatively the great majority of the time.
    - I think you also have to think of the source of the pressure. A foreign government or a Christian Leader public statement may harden negative positions, while pressure from media sources may have a different reaction. The form of the statements also has an impact. I think many people have filters for what they consider bashing vs reasonable criticism in the case of the media.
    - Common sense: Although this is hard to judge across cultures, but there are areas that are common across them. The case of the Qatif girl is a good example of this commonality of understanding what is right. My opinion is that the women driving issue has not achieved this status yet. When you have commonality, pressure will be viewed positively by the public.
    - Outside pressure will not have a high degree of success in issues where the government and/or Saudis consider security threats.
    - Saudi is sensitive to how it is viewed by the world and is aware of its differences. So there is a higher likelihood that positive outcomes can be reached. The case of Fouad is benign and there is no reason to create negative press over it.

  9. 9
    Sparky Said:
    January:04:2008 - 03:01 

    There is no point of thinking and feeling without expressing. I would talk to myself if there was no audience. I have a big mouth and I am loud. Can you believe people in jail are aloud to use cell phones. Well believe it!!!

    Saudi Arabia has been jailing reformists who have expressed themselves but were they jailing clerics who expressed their hatred and want for violence against people who wanted to destroy American and make Jews orphans? That kind of speech was tolerated but God FORBID is you want to split the Powers of the Ministry of Interior.

    You will be damned to hell!

  10. 10
    Sparky Said:
    January:04:2008 - 03:11 

    Correction on the above:

    “Clerics who hated and wanted to destroy America and make Jews orphans”

  11. 11
    AbuSinan Said:
    January:04:2008 - 11:57 

    I agree with you John about freedom of speech. Unlike some, you put into practice on this blog what you believe. When I ran my blog the only comments I would delete were ones that were threatening or involved personal attacks. Everything else was good to go.

    In the marketplace of ideas the trash will be sorted from the gems on their own merit. The process does not need government or religion to help it along.

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