Saudi Blogger Arrested, Held Without Charges

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Saudi Arabian officials have reportedly detained a blogger whose writing has criticized religious extremism in the country, according to the two press freedom groups and a regional human-rights organization.

Blogger and IT professional Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, 32, was taken into custody on December 10, the Committee to Protect Journalistsreported on Wednesday. His Arabic-language site now has a "Free Fouad" banner in English across the top.

In a letter sent to friends shortly before his arrest, al-Farhan wrote that he had been told that the interior ministry was investigating him and would pick him up within two weeks. At the time he described the worst case as being jailed for three days, but he was still being held without charge as of Friday, according to Joel Campagna, Middle East program coordinator for the CPJ in New York.

Al-Farhan's blog promotes political reform and bears the tagline, "Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, Shura and all the remaining Islamic values which are missing," along with a dedication to his daughters, according to a report on the website of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. Some of his more critical commentary has dealt with the question of religious extremism, Campagna said. Al-Farhan also recently posted a blog item criticizing ten well-known personalities who have close ties to the Saudi royal family, he said.

The Saudi government heavily censors Internet content, both political criticism and pornography, Campagna said. Contentious news or political commentary sites are frequently blocked.

There have been previous incidents of online writers suffering retaliation. In 2006, Saudi journalist Rabah al-Quwai', who had criticized religious extremism, was held for 13 days. In order to obtain his release he had to confess to having denigrated Islamic beliefs, and promise to would defend Islamic values in his future work, the CPJ reported.

Reporters Without Borders Thursday released a statement calling for al-Farhan's release; its current list of "13 Internet Enemies" includes Saudi Arabia.

Research into Internet content filtering by the OpenNet Initiative shows substantial blocking activity by the government of Saudi Arabia. The group says that filtering content for political reasons is the common denominator across the Middle East.

The CPJ last year detailed Saudi media censorship in its report, Princes, Clerics and Censors.

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