Saudi democracy activist Matrouk al-Faleh arrested

THE Saudi democracy activist Matrouk al-Faleh was arrested at King Saud University in Riyadh on Monday by secret police, according to this report by Human Rights Watch.

He was one of the three activists arrested in 2004, along with Ali al-Domaini and Abdullah al-Hamed, after calling for a constitutional monarchy and an elected parliament. They were put on trial and sentenced in 2005 to varying jail terms. All three were released in late 2005 only after King Abdullah pardoned them.

I covered the announcement of their conviction in Riyadh in 2005 for the Washington Times, standing outside the courthouse in the sun with their family members. I remember that none of us were allowed to enter the building and armed guards kept pushing us back until we ended up on a side street.

I subsequently met and interviewed Faleh in Riyadh in 2007 for a story I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor. Here is part of my story:

But the arrest of nine Saudi reformists on Feb. 10, 2007, dashed the last hopes of many who were hoping for more substantial reforms. And many see the government move to regulate salons as another sign the kingdom is backing away from allowing more political openness.
The arrests took place after the nine had signed a petition addressed to King Abdullah calling for political reform and the splitting up of the Ministry of Interior. If this were implemented, it would seriously weaken the powers of the interior minister, Prince Naif ibn Abdul Aziz, who is known to be strongly opposed to the reform movement.
“A group of us met with Prince Naif in January 2004 before we were imprisoned, and he strongly objected to the use of the term ‘reform,’ ” recalls Matrouk al-Faleh, one of the three jailed reformists pardoned by King Abdullah in late 2005.
Faleh says that he believes one of the reasons that the nine reformers were arrested was that some of them were about to announce the formation of a political party, something the government has warned repeatedly it would not allow. “These arrests are a coverup on the part of the Ministry of Interior to kill any activation of democratic reform demands,” he says.
The government has also accused some of the nine arrested reformists with sending money to “terrorists” in Iraq, a charge strongly denied by their lawyer Bassem Alim and the relatives of Saud Al-Mokhtar, one of the arrested reformists.
Despite all of these setbacks, reformists like Faleh and the female academic are still optimistic that things will gradually improve in five to 10 years from now.
“We hope that King Abdullah will continue reform. We have some problems with some of our senior leadership who are opposing change. We don’t believe that the Saudi public and the religious establishment are obstacles to reform,” says Faleh.
“We want an independent judiciary and a code of public liberties that guarantee freedom of expression, participation and formation of civil society groups,” he adds.

HRW believes that Faleh may have been arrested for his public criticism of jail conditions in Buraidah, where his fellow activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Isa al-Hamid are serving jail terms for expressing support of a demonstration held last year in front of a secret police prison by wives and relatives of long-term detainees held there without charge or trial.

I hope that Faleh will be released soon and allowed to return to his teaching job at the university.

Saudi Blogger Fuad Al-Farhan Arrested Again

UPDATE (Dec. 24, 2007): A free Fuad Farhan site has been set up. Click here to check it out. You can leave comments and read what other bloggers have written about Fuad’s arrest. There is also a Facebook page for him.
Also, it seems that he was arrested on Dec. 11, and not just last week as I reported below.

SEVERAL Gulf bloggers have now confirmed that Saudi blogger Fuad Al-Farhan was arrested last week before Eid in Jeddah.

I know Fuad personally and have met him several times and interviewed him for stories. The last time I saw him was when I had lunch with him, Faiza Ambah and the English writer Robert Lacey at Casper & Gambini in early December. He was in good spirits and did not have an inkling yet that he was in trouble.

Around a week later he called a mutual friend of ours and said that he was worried as a person in the Ministry of the Interior had called him to warn him that his name was on a list of people to be arrested and held for questioning. According to the government official, Fuad was to be held initially for three days, and if he was not cooperative then his stay with the secret police could be expanded to two weeks.

As the Bahraini blogger Mahmoud of Mahmoud’s Den wrote today, this is not the first time that Fuad has run afoul of Saudi authorities. In November 2006 he was questioned by two plainclothes officials about his blog and warned that if he did not stop criticizing government officials he would face negative consequences. Scared that his IT business could be affected by what he wrote on his blog, Fuad stopped blogging for several months.

The latest arrest comes after he visited one of nine Saudi reformists who were arrested on Feb. 10, 2007, and are still being held at a secret police detention facility in north Jeddah after refusing to sign undertakings that they would cease their calls for political reform. Fuad wrote about his visit on his blog.

I just hope that Fuad will be released soon and allowed to blog again. The wave of greater accountability, more transparency and allowing the citizenry of Saudi Arabia a higher voice in how our country is run is the ongoing legacy of King Abdullah’s reformist agenda. I hope that this will be allowed to continue. Arresting reformists and bloggers does not help the cause of reform in the Kingdom, and just serves to bring us back to those dreaded old days when everyone was too afraid to say in public what they really felt. I and many other Saudis like me had thought that those days were long gone. I hope we’re right.

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