Administration Presses Saudi Government On Imprisoned Blogger, Ignored Gang Rape Victim

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"Administration Presses Saudi Government On Imprisoned Blogger, Ignored Gang Rape Victim"

On Dec. 10, Saudi officials arrested Fouad al-Farhan, a popular “outspoken” blogger who writes about social issues. The Saudi Interior Ministry recently confirmed that Farhan is being held for “purposes of interrogation.” Farhan believes he was seized because he wrote about political prisoners being held by Saudi Arabia and notes that he was “asked to sign a statement of apology.”

Farhan’s arrest has infuriated activists worldwide. At yesterday’s State Department briefing, a reporter asked spokesman Sean McCormack what the Bush administration has done about this situation:

MCCORMACK: Our message to the Saudi Government was pretty clear. It’s what you heard me talk a little bit about yesterday and that is that the United States stands for freedom of expression. It’s an important element of any thriving society. It’s a cornerstone of any democratic society. [...]

QUESTION: At what level was this message conveyed?

MCCORMACK: It was conveyed back here in Washington at a relatively senior level.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/01/mccormacksaudiblog.320.240.flv]

It’s an encouraging sign that the Bush administration is standing for Farhan’s human rights and has confronted the Saudi government. But it also raises questions about why officials ignored a story — which aroused similar outrage — regarding 19-year old Saudi woman who was the victim of a brutal gang rape and later sentenced to 200 lashes. The Saudi court blamed her for being an “adulteress who invited the attack.”

When asked about the Saudi rape case on Nov. 19, McCormack said he was “astonished,” but had “nothing else to offer.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the administration would rely on the “appeals process” to work it out. President Bush said he that although he spoke with King Abdullah “about the Middle Eastern peace,” he couldn’t remember whether the Saudi rape case had been mentioned.

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Transcript:

QUESTION: Do you have an opinion on this blogger in Saudi that’s being detained?

MR. MCCORMACK: Thanks for asking the question. We have raised this with the Saudi Government.

QUESTION: You have.

MR. MCCORMACK: And our understanding is that he’s being questioned. I’ve seen some public comments from the Saudi officials. And our message to the Saudi Government was pretty clear. It’s what you heard me talk a little bit about yesterday and that is that the United States stands for freedom of expression. It’s an important element of any thriving society. It’s a cornerstone of any democratic society. And wherever people are seeking to express themselves via the internet or via other means, whether that’s in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere around the world, we stand for that freedom of expression and that was our message to the Saudi Government.

QUESTION: At what level was this message conveyed?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was conveyed back here in Washington at a relatively senior level.

QUESTION: Ambassador level or beyond that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll just — let’s just say at a senior level back here in Washington.

QUESTION: What response?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll let the Saudis speak for themselves.

QUESTION: A relatively senior level, not the most senior level.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not the most senior level here at the Department, no.

QUESTION: Well, can we assume that would be an Assistant Secretary of State or someone of that ilk — Deputy Assistant Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: In that range, yes.

QUESTION: Was there a reminder given that President Bush is on his way to Riyadh in about ten days?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe that was part of the conversation. I think everybody’s aware of that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I would assume you guys would hope that this could be — he’d be released before Bush arrives.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they — it’s within the privy of the powers of the Saudi officials to address the situation.

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