January 10, 2008
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Bush:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to you in advance of your expected meetings next week with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. We would like to draw your attention to the ongoing imprisonment of two journalist bloggers as well as to other restrictions on the press in each country.
We hope you will use your visits with both leaders to express deep reservations--both in public and in private--about the unjust imprisonment of our colleagues and the ongoing harassment many journalists face.
On December 10, Saudi security agents detained Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, a young Saudi blogger who runs Alfarhan.org, a popular pro-reform Web site that publishes social and political commentary. Saudi officials have been virtually silent about the detention; a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said that al-Farhan was being questioned "about violating non-security regulations." Throughout his one-month detention, Saudi and other Arab bloggers have rallied on behalf of al-Farhan, deploring his detention without charge and calling for his release.
In an e-mail sent to
friends prior to his arrest, al-Farhan explained that he had received a phone
call from the Saudi Interior Ministry instructing him to prepare himself
"to be picked up in the coming two weeks" for questioning by a
high-ranking official. He also stated in the e-mail that he believed he was
being summoned "because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I'm
running an online campaign promoting their issue." In one of his last
posts before his detention, al-Farhan sharply criticized 10 influential Saudi
business, religious, and media figures.
Young bloggers like Fouad al-Farhan have taken
advantage of the Internet to circumvent tight government control of the Saudi
media. The government frequently reins in criticism by dismissing or
blacklisting critical writers and by pressuring journalists behind the scenes.
In the face of such restrictions, these bloggers have helped expand social and
political debate, exercising their right to free speech in a way that is
otherwise impossible in their countries.
In Egypt, another reformist
online journalist, Abdel Karim Suleiman, remains in jail, serving a four-year
jail term for allegedly
insulting Islam and President Mubarak. His was the first prison term given to a
blogger in Egypt. Suleiman, a former
student atCairo's Al-Azhar
preeminent higher learning institution in Sunni Islam, had frequently accused
this state-run religious university of promoting extremist ideas. He also
criticized President Mubarak, whom he referred to as a dictator. Eventually
expelled from Al-Azhar in 2006, Suleiman was arrested in November 2006 and
charged for his online writings.
imprisonment was a prelude to a surge in attacks on independent Egyptian
journalists and bloggers over the last year. Several have been criminally
prosecuted or convicted in politically motivated trials, among them leading
independent editor Ibrahim Eissa, who faces possible prison time for articles
he wrote about President Mubarak's health.
In a speech before a group of international political
dissidents in Prague last June, you
restated your administration's policy to support democracy worldwide by saying,
"My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We will never
excuse your oppressors. We will always stand for your freedom." You added
that the U.S. is using its
influence to press close allies such as Egypt
and Saudi Arabia
"to move toward freedom," and that it "will continue to press
nations like these to open up their political systems, and give greater voice
to their people."
"Inevitably, this creates tension," you
stated. "But our relationships with these countries are broad enough and
deep enough to bear it."
It is in this spirit that we encourage you to urge
King bdullah and President Mubarak to do everything in their powers to ensure
that our colleagues are released and that other journalists are able to work
freely, without the threat of intimidation and harassment. Such a forceful
stand would both help support a free press and also bolster your
administration's policy of holding its allies to account when they violate the
fundamental right to freedom of expression.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters.