'Searching for Freedom' in Saudi Arabia

Before Bush's visit, Saudi government criticized for locking up blogger.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:21 AM

CAIRO, Jan. 9, 2008 — -- "Searching for freedom, dignity, justice and equality" was the top slogan of Fouad Al Farhan's Arabic Internet journal. Farhan, one of the most popular Saudi bloggers, is now in jail.

The 32-year-old owner of a small IT business was arrested Dec. 10 on charges of "violating nonsecurity regulations." He is detained for interrogation in his Red Sea city of Jeddah.

In a letter posted on his blog, which continues to be updated by his friends, Al Farhan says they picked him up because he "wrote about political prisoners in Saudi Arabia" and refused to apologize. (http://www.alfarhan.org)

On his blog, Al Farhan called for political reform and wrote comments in defense of a group of Saudi academics who were detained last year. He also criticized public figures and government institutions, including the judiciary system.

In October Al Farhan wrote: "I suggest we address some of the public figures in the kingdom as 'Saints.' They are Saudis like us, but whoever criticizes them is sent to prison."

Gen. Mansour Al Turki, spokesman of the Saudi interior ministry, told ABC News no date was set for the release of Al Farhan, but he declined to give further details on the process of the interrogation.

Coverage of Al Farhan's case was neglected by the Saudi press. According to Khaled Al Maeena, editor in chief of the Saudi English language daily Arab News, his paper was the only Saudi publication to report the story.

"There is no legislation ruling Internet publications in Saudi and I don't believe that anyone should be arrested for expressing their opinions. But what happened will not stop young Saudis from blogging," Maeena said.

Meanwhile, Saudi bloggers launched a campaign for the release of Al Farhan. International human rights organizations and Saudi activists have urged the Saudi interior ministry to release Farhan. (http://ar.freefouad.com/?p=92)

In Washington, the U.S. administration has also raised "a clear message" on the case "at a relatively senior level," said the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.