Two Saudi men were detained Sunday in relation to a YouTube video they produced about poverty in Riyadh, colleagues said. Feras Bughnah and Hosam al-Deraiwish were called by the police for questioning Sunday afternoon, and they are still in authorities custody in the police station in Sahafa district in northern Riyadh.
“We asked the guard at the police station if Feras and Hosam were inside the cell and he said yes,” said Asem al-Ghamdi, a reporter for the local news site Sabq who tried to visit the two men in prison yesterday. “The guard agreed to give them food that I brought for them, but he did not let us talk to them.”
Al-Ghamdi said he spoke with an officer at the police station who told him the issue is “simple” and that Feras and Hosam would be released Tuesday morning. However, as of Tuesday evening, the two men remain in detention.
Coincidentally, Monday, October 17, is when the world celebrates the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
While the detention appears related to the video, it is still unclear what was the exact reason for the detention, said one source who is following the case but asked not to be named for fear of retribution from authorities.
“One theory is that they have been detained because their YouTube video was shown on a TV channel owned by the opposition abroad,” he said. “Another theory is that authorities did not like the strong tone of the video and wanted to make an example out of these guys.”
Saudis online took to Twitter to comment on the issue and express their support to the two detained men. Using the hashtag #Mal3ob3lena (which is the name of the YouTube show), users posted more than 17,000 tweets in less than 24 hours since Monday.
“Those who say the truth are detained, while those who steal billions are free,” tweeted Sara Nasser.
Yasser Almisfer said he could never imagine that these two men would be detained because he knows them and he knows how much they care about the country.
“The idea of interrogating the creators of Mal3ob3lena is nauseating,” he tweeted.
UPDATE 10/20/2011 15:50 ET: It’s Thursday, close to 11pm Saudi time and no word on the release of #mal3ob3lena team yet. I spoke to another person familiar with the matter who told me he expects that Feras and his friends will be released in the coming few days.
“Police are waiting for the release order from the governate,” he said. Knowledgeable on the legal process in the country, this person described the detention as “strange,” adding that probably the reason for delaying their release is to send a message to bloggers and activists that there is a line that they should not cross.
“Come on!” he said, “where are we now? Why are these old ways making a comeback? Why are they trying to strangle the future of this country?”
UPDATE 11/1/2011 2:30 Istanbul: After two weeks in detention, Feras and his crew have been released.