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Authorities block online forum expressing support for detained activist

(ANHRI/IFEX) - Cairo, 25 May 2011 - ANHRI has condemned the Saudi authorities for blocking a blog by Omaima Al Najjar, on 22 May 2011. The activist's blog is known as "Saudi woman speaks out", http://omaimanajjar.wordpress.com/unblock-omaima

Al Najjar had expressed support for Manal Al Sharif, an activist who was detained by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice ("Religious Police"), for driving her car in Al Kohbar city on 21 May and posting information on her driving experience on the Internet.

Al Sharif launched a campaign called "Women2Drive" in which she urged Saudi authorities to allow women to drive and called on Saudi women to start driving as of 17 June, noting that Saudi legislation does not include any clause banning women from driving.

Al Najjar posted a statement on her blog, signed by more than 200 activists of both genders, urging the authorities to release Al Sharif, who was under compulsory detention.

ANHRI recalls that at the beginning of 2011, Saudi Arabia enacted an executive decree regulating online publishing and blogging. According to Article 7 of the legislation, these Internet activities were viewed as a threat that should be monitored, controlled, and permitted only after the necessary licence had been granted by the Ministry of Information. The authorities also enacted a new print law which imposes tough financial penalties on journalists, in violation of freedom of opinion and expression.

"Saudi authorities have always followed a strict policy of suppressing, blocking and banning expressions of opinion rather than encouraging dialogue. This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has blocked blogs or Internet sites or detained activists. With its dark past and repressive policies, Saudi Arabia has become one of the worst violators of Internet freedom in the world," said ANHRI.

"The authorities should put an end to the suppression of freedom of opinion and expression, a right each human being should be able to enjoy. Instead they should adopt a policy that encourages dialogue, in particular given the context of the current Arab spring spreading in the region," ANHRI added.

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