The United States said on Thursday it has raised with Saudi Arabia its arrest of an Internet blogger who aired anti-government views, with Washington insisting on freedom of expression.
"We have raised this with the Saudi government," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters when asked about Fouad al-Farhan, who was detained on December 10 at his office in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. "And our message to the Saudi government was pretty clear," he added.
"And that is that 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," McCormack said. "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," he added. He said the message to the Saudis was conveyed "back here in Washington at a relatively senior level."
He said it was not given by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but it was from someone like an assistant secretary of state or a deputy assistant secretary of state.
When asked if the Saudis were reminded that US President George W. Bush was headed to Riyadh in about 10 days, he replied: "I don't believe that was part of the conversation. I think everybody's aware of that."
Saudi bloggers are campaigning for the release of their most famous colleague, who was arrested after slamming religious extremism and demanding political reforms in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.
A smiling Farhan (which means joyful in Arabic) declares on his blog (www.alfarhan.org) that he is pursuing "freedom, dignity, justice, equality, shura (consultation) and other missing Islamic values."
He also says his endeavours are for Raghad and Khattab -- his 10-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. Farhan's arrest was reported on Tuesday by the English-language daily Arab News, the only Saudi newspaper to have spoken about his detention.
Farhan was being held for "interrogation for violating non-security regulations," interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told the daily.