Both Poneke and myself received a very unexpected but lovely e-mail from Fouad al-Farhan, the Saudia Arabian blogger who was detained without charge for 137 days, and released finally last month. He thanked us for our support.
The Hive also did a lot and Poneke actually asked MFAT officials whether the NZ Government would take action. Sadly the most they would do is have a “watching brief”. No Right Turn, and no doubt other blogs, also lent their support. Oh yes the EPMU also supported the Government taking action.
While I am sure the blogs had no impact on the Saudi Government (hell we couldn’t even get the NZ Government to stand up for freedom of speech), Fouad says that he found it incredibly heartening to be released and read how people in NZ were advocating on his behalf. Through a NZ professional wrestler who once visited his vlllage to promote Anchor dairy products, he has always wanted to visit NZ.
Extracts from the e-mail:
Dear David, I’m Fouad Al-Farhan. I’m the Saudi Blogger who was arrested 137 days because of his political writing in Saudi Arabia. In the mid 80s when I was a kid, the famous New Zealand wrestler Tony Garea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Garea) visited our small villiage here in Saudi Arabia (Albaha) on a marketing campaign to promote the famous NZ cheese (Anchor). In that days, wrestling meant a big thing to my people. My village people loved Tony Garea before his visit. When he arrived, they made a big welcome festival for him. They even danced and said poems about his heroism. I still remember parts of it.
I replied, pointing out that many Kiwis would find it very amusing that a professional wrestler promoting cheese was our most successful marketing campaign
All my friends know about my dream of visiting New Zealand for a lengthy backpacking journey. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen anytime soon. I always have great admiration of the NZ people and the country. My best friend who was lucky to live there for a year keep telling me lovely stories about how peaceful and blessed your land is.
We do forget sometimes how lucky we are.
My government put me in a solitary confinement for 137 days. My cell was 2×3 meters. I never saw anybody except the interrogators once every couple of weeks. The rest of the days I was alone. They didn’t allow me to watch T.V, listen to radio, read any books or magazine or newspaper. I was not allowed to have a pen and a paper to write. I never saw the sun. I was completely cut off the world. All I had is our holy book (Quran) and prayer rug. So, I had a lot of time to think about my life. One of things that always came on mind in prison was New Zealand and my dream backpacking journey.
I can think of few things worse than solitary confinement. Hell I go crazy if I have nothing to do for even an hour on a plane. Five months with no Internet, no books, no music, no TV, and most of all no human contact would be unbearable.
I didn’t know that my case has reached NZ. I didn’t know that someone there in that beloved land thought, wrote, and cared about me. Internet is just great and you people deserve the land you love in. Your support and other NZ citizens like (http://poneke.wordpress.com) of my case meant a lot to me. It touched my heart deeply because I already have positive feelings toward your country and people since my childhood.
As I said, many NZ bloggers and others like the EPMU raised their voice in support. Getting this feedback from Faoud is a good reminder that we should be vocal more often.
I loved Tony Garea because my father did. I loved your country because of my best friend stories about it. These feelings have increased because of your support. I just can’t thank you enough for your support. It meant a lot to me more than you can imagine. Fouad Al-Farhan
Hopefully one day Fouad will be able to visit New Zealand. I suspect he will have no shortage of people willing to host him or show him around.