The United States has expressed its concern to Saudi Arabia about the detention of Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, the writer of a prominent Saudi Internet blog. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that “Our message to the Saudi government was pretty clear”:
“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.”
Mr. al-Farhan was arrested in December. He has been held without charge and interrogated on what Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki called “non-security regulations.” In an email sent before he was arrested, Mr. al-Farhan wrote that he had angered the government “because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their [the prisoners’] issue.”
The State Department’s most recent report on the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia found that the country’s “Basic Law does not provide for freedom of speech or the press, and the government generally did not respect these rights in practice.” The Saudi government “continued to restrict freedom of speech and press and censored articles critical of the royal family.” And because they face harassment and detention, most Saudi Arabian “journalists practiced self-censorship by refraining from direct criticism of government officials,” according to the State Department.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto commented on Mr. al-Farhan’s arrest and the need for a free press in Saudi Arabia: “We promote freedom of expression as much as possible, whether it's on blogs and newspapers,” he said. “We think it's essential to thriving societies to continue on that path to democracy, where you can use the news media to speak to your fellow citizens; it's very important.”