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FAMOUS BLOGGER RELEASED

The "dean" of bloggers in Saudi Arabia has been released without charge after nearly five months behind bars, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN.

Saudi authorities released Ahmad Fouad al-Farhan on 26 April, but only after blocking his blog ( http://www.alfarhan.org ) earlier in the month, says HRInfo.

Al-Farhan was detained on 10 December and his computer was confiscated. According to Menassat.com, his arrest came shortly after he posted comments on his blog in support of a group of men who had been arrested on suspicion of financing terrorists. He said they were Saudi academics seeking to promote democracy in a country that restricts press freedom.

Just days before al-Farhan was arrested, he had told friends that that the Ministry of Interior had warned him that he would be investigated.

But the ministry remained mostly silent throughout al-Farhan's detention, during which he was only allowed one visit by his father and denied access to a lawyer, says RSF. The authorities have not revealed the charges on which he was arrested, saying only that they were not security-related.

Al-Farhan is considered the dean of blogging - he was one of the first to blog in the kingdom using his real name, and, according to RSF, the first blogger to be targeted directly in Saudi Arabia. His online mission is the "search for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and other lost Islamic values."

While al-Farhan was in jail, his supporters maintained his blog and set up a Free Fouad website and a page on the social networking site Facebook that has more than 1,000 members. Bloggers also organised a "Day of Silence for Fouad" in January, not posting any articles but instead putting up banners on their sites calling for his release.

HRInfo welcomed his release but is calling on the authorities to unblock his blog immediately.

Bloggers have played a crucial role in supporting the peaceful reformation in Saudi Arabia, which have made them a new target for censorship. The Saudi authorities have blacklisted more than 400,000 websites, ranging from the sites of political organisations to those of unrecognised Islamist movements and porn sites, says RSF.

Visit these links:
- HRInfo: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2008/pr0426-2.shtml
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26746
- WiPC: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk
- Menassat.com: http://tinyurl.com/5jafeh
- Free Fouad: http://en.freefouad.com/
(6 May 2008)

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