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.
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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