Monday, April 28, 2008

Fouad is out of jail.

A friend who is traveling in the Middle East e-mailed me this item from Arab News, in which the wife of Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan is quoted as saying he has been released from prison. I double-checked and found confirmation of this on Ahmed Al-Omran's blog Saudi Jeans. It's a great relief to know that Mr. Al-Farhan has been allowed to return to his wife and two young children.

But is he now truly free? The Arab News piece quotes Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed as saying

The issue (of Al-Farhan) was not that important as it represented the mistake committed by a person on himself. A man who commits a mistake should bear its result.
This cryptic (and evidently awkwardly translated) statement gives us no clue as to the nature of Al-Farhan's alleged "mistake". Moreover, the article also quotes "an official statement" as saying he "was detained on Dec. 10 for violating the Kingdom’s regulations,... but no charges were pressed against him." Again, there is no indication of what regulations he is said to have violated. Perhaps more importantly, he was held in prison for 137 days without being charged with any crime. (Yes, I know that my own government is not immune to criticism in this respect.) One can only wonder what chilling effect the prospect of being once again torn from his family and held indefinitely without charges for some unspecified "violation" will have on his writing.

Nevertheless, this is an occasion to celebrate. Thanks to Mark Crawford and all others who joined me in signing letters asking for Mr. Al-Farhan's release. I like to think that we at least hastened the course of justice.