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Freed blogger silent on details of detention

Fouad Al-Farhan just says he is 'very happy' to be free and was treated 'fairly'.

A Saudi blogger and reform advocate, whose detention without charge four months ago sparked criticism from Washington, said on Sunday he was "very happy" to be free and was "fairly" treated in custody, reported newswire AFP.

But Fouad Al-Farhan, who was released on Saturday from a prison in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, said he would not comment on the details of his case for the time being.

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"I am very happy to be back with family and friends. I appreciate their help [while I was in detention]," Al-Farhan said by telephone from the resort of Taef near Jeddah, where he was visiting his mother.

Al-Farhan said that while in prison, "I was treated equally like everyone else, - fairly."

It was "a good treatment", he said, adding that he was healthy and in good spirits.

Al-Farhan, a 32-year-old father of two, said he would not comment on the reasons for his detention for now.

"Anyway, my main concern is to help our youth not become involved in terrorist activities and end up in prison," he said.

Saudi Arabia has been battling attacks by suspected Al-Qaeda militants for the past five years.

Al-Farhan had been held since December 10 in a move which unnerved the blogger community in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia and drew calls for his release from international human rights watchdogs as well as the US government.

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Washington said in January that it had raised Al-Farhan's case with the authorities in Riyadh "at a relatively senior level".

"And our message to the Saudi government was pretty clear," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"And that is that the United States stands for freedom of expression... 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.

The Saudi daily Arab News noted on Sunday that official statements said Al-Farhan was detained for "violating regulations", but no charges were ever pressed.

Al-Farhan told AFP that despite four months in detention, "I will be back blogging" - although he was not sure when.

According to earlier reports, Al-Farhan wrote to friends two weeks before his arrest saying he expected to be detained for his writings about a group of reformists arrested in February 2007 for alleged links to terror funding.

Prior to his arrest, Al-Farhan had also criticised a number of influential Saudi figures as well as religious extremism in the oil-rich Muslim kingdom.

In an article entitled: "No to terrorism, yes to dialogue in Saudi Arabia", and posted on December 3, Al-Farhan wrote that Al-Qaeda had not been eliminated despite the calm prevailing in the kingdom.

He also slammed "the rejection of peaceful dialogue within Saudi society."

"When you are born and raised [in a society] marked by a discourse that excludes the other... your spirit will be a fertile ground for the ideology of violence," he said.

A Saudi human rights activist welcomed Al-Farhan's release, although he said he did not think that US intervention affected the case.

"It is a good thing that he has been released within the legal six-month period during which a person must be either charged and put on trial or freed," Mufleh Al-Kahtani, vice president of the National Society for Human Rights, told AFP.

"We hope he was not detained for expressing his views as this would be a violation of rules granting freedom of expression to everyone."

But Kahtani, whose watchdog took up Farhan's case, said the NSHR was never informed of specific charges against the blogger.

The daily Al-Watan, in its report of Al-Farhan's release, quoted Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz as saying the blogger had "wronged himself". It did not elaborate.

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