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Friend and fellow Saudi blogger petitions for al-Farhan's release

  • Story Highlights
  • Fouad al-Farhan, who runs, was arrested December 10
  • Email: Al Farhan voiced support for people the government calls terrorists
  • Saudi spokesman: Blogger is being interrogated for local law violations
  • Fellow blogger based in Saudi Arabia starts petition to free his friend
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(CNN) -- A Saudi blogger arrested in December could be freed soon, a spokesman for the kingdom's Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

No details about any charges or a release date have been announced. However, a friend and fellow Saudi blogger told CNN that Fouad al-Farhan was arrested because he wrote about political issues.

Al-Farhan, operator of the Web site, was arrested December 10. In an e-mail posted on the site since his arrest, he told friends that he faced arrest for his support of 10 reform advocates the Saudi government accuses of supporting terrorism.

The 32-year-old blogger is one of the few Saudi Web commentators who uses his own name, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. He was was arrested at his Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, office by government agents who also seized his laptop from his home, the organization said in a statement issued in late December.

Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Riyadh, told CNN that al-Farhan was jailed "because he violated the regulations of the kingdom."

"He is being interrogated for local law violations," al-Turki said. "The violation is not a security matter."

Al-Turki said he did not believe the blogger would be in detention much longer. "They will get the information that they need from him and then they will let him go," he said.

Al-Farhan's arrest and detainment has shaken the blogging community in Saudi Arabia, and made them more determined to keep blogging, said al-Farhan's friend Ahmed al-Omran.

The 23-year-old student at King Saud University in Riyadh started his English-language blog in 2004. The blog is mostly his observations about daily news in the country. Most recently, he began an online petition to free al-Farhan which has more than 120 names so far.

"I wasn't shocked that he was arrested, but I thought it was disturbing," al-Omran told CNN Wednesday in an exclusive interview from Riyadh. "All he did was express his opinions in a very obvious way and he didn't threaten anyone. He was advocating against violence and terrorism."

Al-Omran got to know al-Farhan a year ago during social outings with other young bloggers.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy governed by strict Islamic law and though Saudi King Abdullah raised hopes for reform when he assumed the throne in 2005, news outlets remain censored, and Internet access is restricted, according to the U.S. State Department's latest human rights report on the kingdom.

Al-Farhan and al-Omran are motivated to blog for the same reason.

"He was really not comfortable with situation with media; the media is not representative of Saudi society," al-Omran said. "It doesn't represent me as a citizen. Also the other issues [have] to do with freedom of expression. He looked [at] blogging as freedom."

"He is really concerned about his country," said al-Omran.

At some point in late 2006 in Jeddah, al-Farhan was approached by a representative from the Interior Ministry who ordered to take down another blog he was operating at the time, said al-Omran.

"He stopped blogging for a few months, and began on a new Web site on a new domain and new blog," recalled al-Omran. "At that time he was afraid it might have a greater consequence. After some thinking he was like, no matter what, these kind of issues and these values are worth fighting for."

Al-Omran did not consider halting his blog after his friend's arrest.

"The theory is always there, even before, [that] maybe this would jeopardize my safety and get me into trouble," he said. "You would think about it and think that I believe that the issues I'm writing about are worth fighting for."

"Detaining writers and holding them for weeks without charge is appalling," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in the statement.

In the e-mail posted on his Web site, al-Farhan said a senior Interior Ministry official promised he would remain in custody for three days at most if he agreed to sign a letter of apology.

"I'm not sure if I'm ready to do that. An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is [a] liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?" he asked.

Al-Omran's parents worry that he will be targeted for his blog. "They are telling me to be more careful and stuff like that," he said.

But he has no intention of letting up. And he wants al-Farhan to be assured of one thing.

"You are not forgotten; we will never forget about you." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Ashley Fantz, Raja Razek, Mohammed Jamjoom and Ammar BenAziz contributed to this report.

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