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Saudis cuff 'outspoken' blogger

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The Saudi authorities have confirmed they are holding an "outspoken" blogger for "purposes of interrogation", the New York Times reports.

Fouad al-Farhan, 32, was cuffed on 10 December at his offices in Jidda, apparently because he "wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia", according to a letter posted on his blog. It explains that the powers that be "think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue", and adds: "All what I did is wrote some pieces and put side banners and asked other bloggers to do the same."

Farhan says the authorities requested he "sign an apology", but insists: "I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that. An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?"

Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki told the New York Times that Farhan was "being questioned about specific violations of nonsecurity laws". He added: "The violation is not a security matter. He is not being jailed. He is being questioned, and I don’t believe he will remain in detention long. They will get the information that they need from him and then they will let him go."

Farhan's friend Ahmad al-Omran said his chum was "the first Saudi blogger to be detained by state security" and that his detention had created "widespread anxiety among other Saudi bloggers and advocates".

He explained: "An incident like this has its effect. It’s intimidating to think you might be arrested for something on your blog. On the other hand, this means that these voices on the blogosphere are being heard. But it’s really sad that a blogger who is writing about important issues out in the open would get arrested, while there are extremists who call for violence and hate, and the government is not doing much."

Farhan's blog is, the New York Times says, "one of the most widely read in Saudi Arabia". It calls for "freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and the other lost Islamic values", and while Farhan is offline, friends are using it to mount a "Free Fouad" campaign. ®

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