Egyptian Blogger Jailed
We learn from Sonja Zekri that for the first time in Egypt, a blogger has been sentenced to a jail sentence. In his blog, Abdel Karim Nabil called Hosni Mubarak a “symbol of dictatorship,” and Al-Azhar University a “university of terror.” Now he’s been handed down a four-year sentence: three years for defaming Islam, and one for insulting the Egyptian president. “‘If we let people like him off without punishment, a wildfire will blaze up that consumes everything in its path,’ prosecutor Mohammed Dawud warned. Exactly that is what civil rights activists dream of, many of whom pin their hopes on a grass-roots digital democratisation initiated by the country’s bloggers.”
Unhappily the full story was not available in the German paper’s on-line edition. Which led me to dig a bit deeper — i.e. google wider — & I came up with an item on another Egyptian blogger’s site that speaks of the arrest of Abdel Karim Nabil back in the fall of 2005:
On Wednesday October 26, Alexandrian blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman was taken from his home and detained by State Security agents (Amn al-Dawla). Bloggers who visited his family report that the family believes Abdel Karim’s political opinions and writings for several outlets, including Copts United, are behind the arrest. Suleiman is a 21-year-old law student at al-Azhar University (Damanhour campus). He lives in the Muharram Bek neighborhood that witnessed rioting by 5,000 Muslims outside the Mar Girgis Church on Oct. 21, resulting in three deaths and more than 100 wounded. Security forces detained 100-some rioters but recently released many of them.
As is now well known, the crowds were protesting a play performed at the church two years ago that allegedly insults Islam. The play was recently circulated via CD/DVD by unknown parties, though theories abound as to who could be behind it. Stories point the finger at the Ikhwan, competition between rival NDP candidates, and long-festering social tensions. Observers disagree on whether the violence was election-related, but all agree that the government’s purely security-centric approach to sectarian relations is blatantly inadequate.
Abdel Karim maintains a blog, but his family could not say whether this is relevant to the arrest. Abdel Karim’s brother speculated that his arrest may be instigated by local “fundamentalists” with whom Abdel Karim apparently has tense relations. It remains to be seen whether he has been “preventively detained” for the usual 15-day chunks and whether he will be formally charged by State Security Prosecution. The first few days (sometimes weeks) of a detention are always the murkiest, with Amn al-Dawla deliberately keeping everyone in the dark to instill fear and confusion. The causes of Karim’s detention thus remain entirely unclear. Did neighborhood toughs instigate the police to arrest him? Are security agents punishing Abdel Karim for his writings? Why did his family appear to be unconcerned with locating his whereabouts?
Now, Reporters Without Borders has been following Karim’s case & have a “Free Kareem!” site that reports on developments and gives information on what can be done to help Karim Nabil. Here’s the opening of their latest post (from 22 February, the day of the sentencing):
22 February 2007
Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the four-year prison sentence imposed today by a court in Alexandria on Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman for “inciting hatred of Islam” and insulting President Hosni Mubarak in his blog, for which he used the pseudonym of “Kareem Amer.”
“This sentence is a disgrace,” the press freedom organisation said. “Almost three years ago to the day, President Mubarak promised to abolish prison sentences for press offences. Suleiman’s conviction and sentence is a message of intimidation to the rest of the Egyptian blogosphere, which had emerged in recent years as an effective bulwark against the regime’s authoritarian excesses.”
Reporters Without Borders continued: “As a result of this conviction, which clearly confirms Egypt’s inclusion in our list of Internet enemies, we call on the United Nations to reject Egypt’s request to host the Internet Governance Forum in 2009. After letting Tunisia, another violator of online freedom, host the World Summit on the Information Society, such a choice would completely discredit the UN process for debating the future of the Internet.”
The organisation added: “This heavy sentence is also a slap in the face for the international organisations and governments that support President Mubarak’s policies. It is time the international community took a stand on Egypt’s repeated violations of press freedom and the rights of Internet users.”
Suleiman, who was arrested on 6 November 2006, got three years for inciting hatred of Islam and one year for insulting the president. The judge dismissed the charge of “spreading rumours liable to disturb the peace” which had been included in the prosecution’s indictment. Suleiman’s blogs regularly criticised the government’s religious and authoritarian excesses. He also criticised Egypt’s highest religious institutions including the Sunni university of Al-Azhar, where he studied law.
Egypt is on the list of the 13 Internet enemies which Reporters Without Borders compiled in 2006. The government wants to host one of the stages of the Internet Governance Forum, a series of UN-sponsored negotiations about how to regulate the Internet (see: http://www.intgovforum.org/).
On 23 February 2004, the newly-elected president of the Union of Egyptian Journalists, Galal Aref, made an important announcement: President Mubarak had just telephoned him and had formally undertaken to abolish prison sentences for journalists in connection with their work. In effect, he was promising a major overhaul of the laws concerning press offences. Three years later, nothing has changed. Journalists still risk being im
prisoned despite the semblance of a reform last year.