Egypt sentences blogger to four years for insulting Islam

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Egyptian Flag

An Egyptian blogger, Abdul Kareem Suleiman Amer, known online as Kareem Amer, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday for insulting Islam on his weblog.

Blogs had been considered a relatively safe means of expression for citizens of countries with restrictive Islamic laws. Mideast governments have harassed and arrested bloggers before, but Kareem is the first to receive jail time.

Kareem had written about becoming a human rights lawyer and working for the betterment of Muslim and Arabic women; however, the Al-Azhar University expelled him in 2006 for criticizing the school's religious leaders.

He had criticized various Muslim beliefs and suggested that there was no God. The court took special interest in his posting to Coptic blogs, i.e. those run by Egyptian Christians.

His arrest last November inspired rallies in Washington, Rome, Paris, London, and Stockholm.

Gamal Eid, the Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said that the most repressive regime for blogging had been Tunisia, followed by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Libya, which have blocked sites and limited internet access. Expressing surprise at the severity of the sentence given Egypt's recent history, he said it was a "gloomy day for all the advocates of freedom of expression", not only in Egypt but also around the world.

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy group for press freedom condemned the sentence. Pointing out that President Mubarak had promised in 2004 to end prison terms for press offenses, it called the sentence a "message of intimidation" to Egyptian bloggers who, it said, were emerging as an "effective bulwark" against what it called the regime’s authoritarian excesses.