Thursday, January 24, 2008

Release Fouad Al-Farhan

The Center for Democracy and Human Rights, located in Washington, DC

Reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of the innocent Saudi blogger,

Fouad Al-Farhan

Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most censored societies on earth. All forms of free expression are banned, independent civil society is prohibited, and men and women are severely segregated and deprived of many of the same rights, benefits and social norms that are accepted and valued worldwide. The press is government-controlled and all editors of print and visual media are appointed by the government. The oppressive conditions present in Saudi Arabia, including the lack of freedom of speech, assemblage, and public debate, have forced Saudis to be creative and seek other means of communicating with one another, including sign language between men and women who know very little about one other due to their lifelong segregation. However, nothing can compare to the use of the internet by Saudis to express their feelings and views, particularly through the blog. Most Saudis, especially young men and women, who are denied their divine and natural rights to meet face-to-face in schools, public places, or entertainment houses may spend more time on their computers and phones exchanging romantic messages than they do studying, working, or doing household chores.

As Saudis became aware of blogging’s potential to work wonders in a stifling society such as their own, the new internet medium gained widespread popularity. The use of the internet became an empowering tool for oppressed Saudis because they could use it at anytime, anywhere they happened to be. Today, Saudis can use the internet at home, abroad, via mobile phones, Blueberries, and Bluetooth. More importantly, they can use it without the omnipresence of the Saudi government’s layers of ruthless spying agents. This empowerment gave the Saudi internet users, especially the bloggers, a profound sense of freedom to talk about politics, corruption, oppression, religion, sex, and individual liberty.

One such blogger is the courageous Fouad Al-Farhan of Jeddah, a major liberal and cosmopolitan city in the Hijaz region, by the Red Sea. Al-Farhan was one of the first Saudis ever to blog under his real name. He broke free from the self-regulated pattern, which most Saudi journalists and citizens are forced to embrace if they want to avoid imprisonment, the loss of their jobs, and stigmatization. Al-Farhan began to write about liberty, codified civil laws, accountability and transparency. Such topics are depicted by the Saudi government and its educational and judicial systems, as well as its extremist religious agents, as morally corrupting and un-Islamic infidel creations designed to destroy Islam and its adherents. These topics are deemed to be security risks and against God’s will, as well as an insult to the good judgment of Wali Elimr, the king.

Fouad Al-Farhan put his life at risk through his actions and opinions. It is for this reason that he is known as the godfather of Saudi blogging. On December 11th, 2007, Al-Farhan was snatched by the dreaded agents of Prince Naif’s Ministry of Interior, ostensibly for reasons other than his demands for better governance. Saudis know his arrest was the immediate result of his refusal to retract some of his blogposts criticizing Saudi officials. In order to avoid domestic and international condemnation, such as that which occurred in the case of the gang-raped bint Al-Qatief in December, the loathed Minister of Interior, Prince Naïf, did not close Al-Farhan’s blogging activities. However, Al-Farhan has been languishing in the notorious Saudi penitentiary, Dahban, since December 11th, 2007, and apparently has yet to be informed of the charges pressing against him.

The question is, why was Fouad Al-Farhan really arrested? If his arrest was due to his writings, which most Saudis seem to suspect, then this is direct proof that the reform King Abdullah and his hired propagandists in the West brag about is a farce. Why is it a crime for the new generation of young citizens to discuss issues that shape and affect every aspect of their daily lives, as well as the future of their society and fragile country?

On January 5th, 2007, Al-Farhan’s father-in-law was allowed to meet with him for one hour inside Jeddah’s Dahban Prison. The next day, blogs across the Middle East and around the world observed a “Day of Blog Silence” in protest of Al-Farhan’s detention. The New York Times also weighed in with a staff editorial condemning the arrest and calling for Al-Farhan’s release. Fouad Al-Farhan was once a minor celebrity within the limited scene of Saudi Arabian bloggers. Now, he is an internationally-known dissident with leading newspapers, organizations, and diplomats calling for his release. Over 1,000 people have already sent letters to Saudi and American officials calling for Fouad Al-Farhan’s immediate release.

CDHR urges you to do the same, because without global exposure and condemnation of harsh Saudi policies, the infringement of basic individual liberties and gross violations of human rights will continue under the autocratic political and religious policies of the Saudi-Wahhabi system.

Ali H. Alyami, Ph. D.
Executive Director, The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
1050 17 St. NW Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 558-5552; (202) 413-0084; Fax: (202) 536-5210;

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