No freedom for ‘dean of Saudi bloggers’
“To hold a blogger for over two months in secrecy is shameful and I think it’s a fresh reminder of the shoddy state of media freedom in Saudi Arabia ,”
February 28, 2008 Saudi Arabia (CNN) — A top Saudi blogger who was jailed late last year remains in prison more than two months later for unspecified, non-security matters — and there are few signs that he will be freed anytime soon.
Al-Farhan — known on the Internet as the “Dean of Saudi Bloggers” — was arrested on December 10 shortly after one of his blog entries was critical of influential Saudi religious, business and media figures.
Al-Farhan has yet to be charged with a crime, but under Saudi law can be held without charges for six months.
Fellow Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran has been leading the charge in Saudi Arabia to free him. He says more than 1,000 people are now campaigning inside and outside the Saudi kingdom for al-Farhan’s freedom.
“His case is not related to the government, is not related to the Ministry of Interior or to the police or to the security situation,” al-Omran says, referring to comments by Saudi authorities in a CNN report in January. “So if that’s the case, why is he still being held? Why has he not been charged?”
Joel Campagna, the Mideast program coordinator for the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, says his organization hasn’t seen any positive signs from the kingdom about al-Farhan’s possible release. CPJ has lobbied King Abdullah and the Bush administration on al-Farhan’s behalf.
“To hold a blogger for over two months in secrecy is shameful and I think it’s a fresh reminder of the shoddy state of media freedom in Saudi Arabia ,” Campagna says.
Early last month, the U.S. State Department said it had brought its concerns about the detention to the Saudi government at a “relatively senior level.” At the time, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the message was “pretty clear.”
According to the CPJ, al-Farhan sent an e-mail to friends just before he was arrested, saying he thought he was being taken into custody because “I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue.”