Arab blogger in detention: freedom has invisible limits
For many young dissidents, silenced journalists and human-rights activists in Arab states, freedom of expression is too tightly restricted, so they tend to exchange ideas in blogs on the internet. But even in the Arab online world there are limits - invisible limits - and crossing them can often mean an immediate prison sentence.
Fuad al-Farhan (32) from Saudi Arabia has been behind bars since 10 December 2007, without being charged. He owns a small IT company in the port city of Jidda, and suspects that he was taken into custody because of his comments about political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. But a list he published shortly before his arrest, of "The ten most prominent Saudi personalities that I don't like and don't want to meet", which included the billionnaire Prinz Walid bin Talal and influential Islamic scholars, was already very daring in a Saudi context.
"He seems to be in good shape, both mentally and physically", says his wife, who received a phone call from her husband last week for the first time since his arrest. "I hope to be able to visit him in prison soon", she adds in a steady voice. Although she is working actively for her husband’s release, she does not wish her name or photograph to be published, preferring to answer questions from journalists and human-rights activists by telephone rather than in person. This is nothing unusual in conservative Saudi Arabia, however, where most women cover not only their bodies and hair in the street but also their faces. Al- Farhan's family prefers to let his two children speak in public. "Come home, Daddy, we miss you", says his ten-year-old daughter Raghd in a video recording published on Youtube this week.
But arrested Arab bloggers do receive support, not only from their relatives and friends and international organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch, but also from other bloggers between Rabat and Damascus. Besides calling for the release of Fuad al-Farhan, many Arab web sites also contain similar calls on behalf of an arrested Syrian and for the 23-year-old Egyptian Kareem Amer. The latter, a student from Alexandria, was sentenced to four years' detention in February 2007 because, in the view of the judge, he had insulted both President Hosni Mubarak and the Islamic Al- Azhar University in his blog.
The "Free Tariq" campaign for the release of Tariq Biasi (22), a Syrian arrested in July 2007, has however been stopped at the request of his family and his lawyers, as Biasi's trial began a few days ago. He is alleged to have published a comment criticising the Syrian security services on the internet. His supporters don't want to risk his getting a harsher sentence because of their campaign. He is accused of "damaging the national feeling" and "spreading false information". The maximum penalty for each offence is five years' detention. The trial is to continue next Monday.
(Anne-Beatrice Clasmann, dpa) /