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Saudi Video Blogger Reportedly Detained for Showing Poverty in Riyadh
Rasid - « New York Times » - 20 / 10 / 2011 - 5:30 pm
Feras Bugnah
Feras Bugnah

A popular Saudi video blogger was detained this week, along with his crew, after his report on poverty in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, was viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube, human rights activists said.

The blogger, Feras Bugnah, was arrested on Sunday with his colleagues Hosam al-Deraiwish and Khaled al-Rasheed, in connection with the latest episode of their online show, “We Are Being Cheated,” according to the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association.

The group said that the team’s video report on conditions in an impoverished district of Riyadh, which has been viewed more than 800,000 times, “contained realistic scenes, interviews and comments that are all considered familiar to the majority of Saudi society.” In a statement condemning the arrests, the group also accused the kingdom’s interior ministry of “trying to control the new Internet media” and sending a message to other young Saudis not to initiate such projects.

Eman Al Nafjan, who writes as @Saudiwoman on Twitter, drew attention to a copy of the original video with English subtitles added by a Saudi living in Manchester, England.

The report was the fourth episode of the show posted on YouTube in the past two months. Each of the slickly produced short videos features Mr. Bugnah on camera, narrating the reports and interacting with his interview subjects in a lighthearted but impassioned style not unlike that of the American filmmaker Michael Moore. Mr. Bugnah’s look at poverty in Riyadh blends comedy with activism right from the start, as he first asks well-off residents of the city if they are doing well. When they reply that they are, he then cuts to impoverished children who say, no, they are not doing well.

When they set up the show’s YouTube channel this summer, the filmmakers declared: “we are going to talk about the subjects/ systems that are badly implemented in our country. We want our voice to reach to the decision makers so they can make changes that will make the people who love in this country more satisfied.” Near the end of the report on poverty, Mr. Bugnah called on wealthy Saudis to do more to tackle the problem and encouraged one of the men he interviewed to make a direct appeal to King Abdullah for help.

At least two of the filmmakers were being held at a jail in Riyadh on Tuesday night, according to Ahmed Al Omran, a Saudi blogger who is working as a social media intern at National Public Radio in Washington. Mr. Omran wrote on his personal blog, Saudi Jeans, that a local journalist who tried to visit Mr. Bugnah and Mr. Deraiwish at the jail on Monday was told that they were there.

The Saudi embassy in Washington has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Mr. Omran added that supporters of the men have turned to social media to vent their anger at the arrests. Twitter users using the hashtag #Mal3ob3lena — which is how the show’s Arabic title is rendered in Latin characters — posted nearly 17,000 Twitter messages in 24 hours, as news of the arrest spread online.

One of those comments, posted by a 19-year-old Saudi student named Sara Nasser, read: “Those who say the truth are detained, while those who steal billions are free.”

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By ROBERT MACKEY
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