University professor held over Internet article about royal family
Abdulkarim, 40, was arrested at his home by four men with no warrant on 5 December, 12 days after posting an article on the Royaah.net website ( http://royaah.net/ ) about 86-year-old King Abdallah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud's departure for the United States for medical reasons. It referred not only to his health problems but also to differences in the royal family over the succession and named potential successors.
He is currently being held in Al-Hair prison south of the capital, where he has not been allowed any contact or communication with his family. There has been no official word as to whether formal charges have been brought against him.
Abdulkarim teaches law at Imam Mohammed bin Saud University, one of the country's leading Islamic universities. He is also a member of many Arab and international human rights organisations and is known for his defence of political and civil rights.
The news of his arrest was revealed by a post on his Facebook page. Since then, it has been reported on many other websites and has been publicly condemned by Saudi human rights organisations.
The Human Rights Observatory in Saudi Arabia called it a clear violation of the principles of good governance and human rights and said a dangerous gulf was growing between the country's royal family and its subjects. The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) condemned the interior ministry's police-state mentality and urged the authorities to respect their human rights obligations.
Several Facebook pages and a Twitter hashtag (#FreeDrAbdulkarim) have been created to campaign for his immediate release. The "We are all Mohammed Abdulkarim" Facebook page already has more than 300 members while the "Free Dr. Abdulkarim" page has about 650.
Abdulkarim is not the only netizen currently detained in Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Mekhlef bin Dahhamal-Shammari, a writer, human rights activist and social reformer, has been held since 15 June. Shammari's arrest is believed to have been prompted by his criticism of political and religious leaders, especially in articles posted on the Saudiyoon http://www.saudiyoon.com ) and Rasid ( http://www.rasid.com ) news websites. He wrote about poverty and unemployment, the government's failure to promote tourism, its discrimination against the Shiite minority and its obsession with public morality and keeping men and women apart.
The Internet is heavily censored in Saudi Arabia. The authorities claim to be blocking access to around 400,000 websites. Sites covering religious issues, human rights and opposition statements are usually inaccessible but Royaah.net was still accessible on 7 December.
Saudi Arabia is ranked 157th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is on the organisation's list of "Enemies of the Internet", while King Abdallah is on its list of the 40 "Predators of Press Freedom."