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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Saudi Journalist detained for Internet forum postings four years ago

Journalist Detained for Internet RemarksEbtihal Mubarak, Arab News
Rabah Al-Quwayi
The Arab News

JEDDAH, 9 April 2006 — Saudi journalist Rabah Al-Quwayi, 24, has been detained by Hail authorities in connection with his writings posted on Internet forums, which they allege place his Islamic faith in doubt.

Al-Quwayi, a reporter for the Riyadh-based daily Shams, has been in Hail police custody since Monday.

“They asked me about topics I wrote on the Internet four years ago,” Al-Quwayi told Arab News from his detention center.

Hail police chief Gen. Nasser Al-Nowaisser said Al-Quwayi is detained under a warrant requested by the Commission for Prosecution and Investigation.

“Our job was to execute the warrant. As his case is not a public offense, we have nothing to do with the course of the investigation,” said Al-Nowaisser.

When Arab News contacted Ahmad Al-Mashhour from the Hail office of the commission, he refused to comment on the case.

Lawyer Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem announced yesterday that he would be representing Al-Quwayi. The lawyer said he is still unclear who the plaintiffs in the case are; nobody has come forward as the accusers. The commission has the legal right to detain any suspect for up to six months, said Al-Lahem, but the reasons have to be clear.

“The crime must be a serious one, like drug-trafficking, theft, or when there is a likelihood of the suspect fleeing the country,” said the lawyer.

The story of Al-Quwayi’s detention goes back to November when he was based in Hail as a part-time reporter for the Okaz newspaper. He said that unidentified people had been tracking his postings on Internet forums regarding religious extremism. His car was subsequently vandalized and a note was left on the dashboard that said: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful: This time it is your car but next time it is you. Return to your religion and forsake heresy. This is the last warning.”

Al-Quwayi says that he believes the harassment is based on his Internet writing and not anything he’s published in the two newspapers he has worked for.

In a telephone interview with Arab News on Tuesday night, Al-Quwayi said that authorities in Hail contacted him asking him to come in and fill out some paperwork related to his complaints of harassment that stem from the incidents last November. He responded that he had obligations at his job and couldn’t come in. The police sent an explanation letter to the editor in chief of the paper, and Al-Quwayi was given permission to go to the police station. He was immediately arrested upon arrival. Police told him they had discarded his complaints of harassment and opened a new investigation into his Islamic faith.

“They told me that if I didn’t complain to the police in the first place they wouldn’t have suspected my beliefs,” said Al-Quwayi.

Al-Quwayi said the commission investigators were peppering him with questions that were meant to determine his religious knowledge. He added that commission investigators argued with him on topics he posted on the Internet four years ago.

Lawyer Al-Lahem said that now that he’s taken on the case, his first steps would be to review the warrant to make sure it has been done according to proper procedure, and to request the case be moved to Riyadh where he and his client live.


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