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Saudi blogger freed from jail, colleague says

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  • NEW: Friend says blogger "in good spirits" and spending time with family
  • Fouad al-Farhan detained in December by Saudi government for his blog
  • Al-Farhan was held because he supported reform advocates, a blog says
  • Saudi government accused him of supporting terrorism through his blog
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(CNN) -- A Saudi Arabian blogger detained in December, ostensibly because he supported reform advocates accused by the Saudi government of backing terrorism, has been released, a fellow blogger posted Saturday.

art.free.fouad.jpg

Web sites like this one pushed for Fouad al-Farhan's release.

Ahmed al-Omran said on his blog, saudijeans.org, and later told CNN that he was awakened by a text message from the wife of Fouad al-Farhan, saying he had been released and was at home with his family.

"That's great news, and this is just how I wanted to start my morning," al-Omran wrote.

He said he later spoke with al-Farhan for several minutes on the telephone.

"He sounded fine; he seems to be in good spirits," al-Omran said. "He said he would have more to talk about later but not at this point. He said now he'd like to take some time to spend with his family, with his children that he hasn't seen for so long." Video Watch al-Omran describe his conversation with al-Farhan »

A Web site set up to call for al-Farhan's release said, "Fouad is free. He is back home in Jeddah after 137 days in custody."

The Saudi Interior Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the reports.

In January, a ministry spokesman said al-Farhan was arrested December 10 "because he violated the regulations of the kingdom."

But in an e-mail posted on al-Farhan's Web site after his arrest, he told friends that he faced arrest for supporting 10 reform advocates the Saudi government accused of backing terrorism. In the e-mail, al-Farhan said a senior Interior Ministry official promised that 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," he wrote. "An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is [a] liar when they accused those guys of supporting terrorism?"

Al-Farhan, who blogs at alfarhan.org, is one of the few Saudi Web commentators to use his own name, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

In January, the Bush administration expressed its concerns to the Saudi government regarding al-Farhan's detention at "a relatively senior level," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"The U.S. stands for freedom of expression," McCormack said at the time. "Wherever people are seeking to express themselves, via the Internet or via other areas, whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the world, we stand with that freedom of expression, and that was our message to the Saudi government."

The American Islamic Congress, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, launched an online letter-writing campaign aimed at freeing al-Farhan, whom it called "the godfather of Saudi blogging."

"All he did was express his opinions in a very obvious way, and he didn't threaten anyone," al-Omran said. "He was advocating against violence and terrorism."

Al-Omran said al-Farhan had stopped blogging for a few months in late 2006, after the Interior Ministry ordered him to take down a blog he was operating, but he began again at a new site.

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He said al-Farhan told him he was treated well in jail. He also called al-Farhan's release a turning point for the blogging community in Saudi Arabia.

"It showed the community of bloggers in Saudi Arabia can come together and support this cause -- support his freedom of speech -- even those who didn't agree with some of the things he wrote," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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