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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 15:48 GMT
Jailed Saudi blogger remembered in campaign
By Olivia MacLeod
BBC News

Supporters of the detained Saudi Arabian blogger Fouad al-Farhan are marking the start of his third month in jail by quoting him in their own blogs.

Campaign website
Campaigners are posting messages of support on Fouad's blog

They are determined to keep the 32-year old, who is affectionately nicknamed the "dean" of Saudi bloggers, in the public eye.

Fouad al-Farhan was prepared to criticise aspects of life in Saudi Arabia he did not like and - unusually - wrote his Arabic blog (http://www.alfarhan.org/) under his real name.

He was arrested in Jeddah on 10 December 2007.

"It's still not clear why they have detained him," another Saudi blogger, Ahmed al-Omran, told the BBC News website.

"The Ministry of the Interior is refusing to provide any details about any charges against him".

Ahmed, like Fouad, writes his Saudi Jeans blog under his own name. He is a student in Riyadh and writes in both Arabic and English.

"The Ministry of the Interior is refusing to provide any details about any charges against him."

Political prisoners

Anyone posting a blog which is critical of life in Saudi Arabia is running a risk. The country's ruling Saud family does not tolerate opposition.

"The content and even the tone Fouad posted in is not too different from mine," says Ahmed.

"I guess what did it is a blog he wrote about political prisoners - and the fact he visited them in jail."

Fouad himself knew officials wanted to question him about his support for Saudi Arabia's political prisoners. He wrote to friends saying he did not want to be forgotten in jail.

His arrest a few days later still shocked them.

One, Ahmed Omar, told the BBC News website from his home in Saudi Arabia that Fouad's detention had prompted him to follow suit and blog under his real name:

Ahmed Omar's blog
Ahmed Omar does not believe in hiding behind names

"I always had a healthy respect for Fouad's openness and what he wrote about.

"I had thought about using my own name when I started blogging three years ago. After he was arrested, I felt I had to too.

Ahmed is a 35-year old engineer from Dhahran who writes his blog Living in KSA in Arabic.

"I am honest in what I write, but at the same time careful," he says.

"If you really care about your country and believe in what you write, if you really want change, hiding behind names does not support your cause."

Caution

Ahmed says he feels that going public carries its own protection. Others in Saudi Arabia are not so confident.

Ftat al-Amal (The Girl of Hope) explains in her blog why she does not express herself freely.

"Blogging has almost become our only outlet... which enables youth to express their opinions, criticisms and dreams," she said, quoted by the blogging digest Global Voices.

"When this outlet becomes monitored, we put our hands on our hearts.

"When Fouad al-Farhan was arrested, I imagined myself in his place. Jailing bloggers isn't restricted to Arab countries like Egypt, for instance, which has jailed a sizeable number of them.

"I have political ideas and I won't deny that I don't blog about politics because I don't want to face Fouad al-Farhan's destiny."

Prison visit

So far Fouad, a father-of-two, has been allowed just one family visit.

His father-in-law spent an hour with him at Jeddah's Dahban Prison on 5 January.

The family reported that he was in good physical shape, but was being kept in solitary confinement.

For now, Ahmed Omar in Dhahran says he wants to make sure that Fouad's fears of being forgotten in jail are unfounded.

"The plan is that bloggers can help keep Fouad on the radar."



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