Supporters work to free Egypt blogger Kareem (NPR "Xeni Tech")

For today's edition of the NPR News program "Day to Day," I filed a report on Kareem Amer, the Egyptian blogger recently sentenced to four years in prison -- and the changing role of bloggers in Egypt. Voices you'll hear in this report:

  • Egypt's ambassador to the US, Nabil Fahmy
  • Cairo-based blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah
  • Lawrence Wright, author of "The Looming Tower"
  • coordinator Constantino Diaz-Duran.

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    (warning: contains brief audio of graphic violence) Link to archived audio (Real/Win). Or, listen to this report as an MP3 in the "Xeni Tech" podcast (subscribe via iTunes here). Here's an updated direct MP3 Link for today's episode. NPR "Xeni Tech" archives here.

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    Synopsis follows. Elsewhere around the web: Global Voices has been doing some great, ongoing coverage of free speech issues on Egypt, here: Link. And Egypt is the #2 top recipient of US foreign aid, with $1.8 billion promised in 2007: Link.

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    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves for Egypt tomorrow. Free speech activists are hoping she'll speak to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about a jailed Egyptian blogger named Kareem Amer. Exactly one month ago, the 22 year old law student was sentenced to four years in prison for what he wrote on his personal website.

    The case of Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, or “Kareem Amer,” as he’s known in the blogosphere, has shed a spotlight on a growing community of bloggers in Egypt, and on the country’s laws concerning online speech.

    To give you an idea of what he did to get arrested, here is a translation from his final blog post last October:

    The mere existence of legal provisions that criminalize freedom of thought, and threaten with imprisonment anyone who criticizes religion in any way, is a grave defect in the law.
    Two days after he posted those words, he was interrogated by Egyptian police. Eventually, he was convicted of violating the same legal provisions he criticized on his personal blog.

    A court convicted him of contempt of religion, specifically Islam, and defaming President Mubarak. Though this is the first time a blogger in Egypt has been convicted by a court for blogging, Egyptian bloggers say free speech and political activists are often arrested and detained.

    Cairo-based Alaa Abdel Fattah spent a month and a half in jail last year for protesting injustice in Egypt's legal system. And just last week, Egyptian authorities targeted him again. Authorities produced a list of opposition activists that included him and other bloggers. At a protest days later, police arrested and jailed 20 people for two days, including some of the bloggers on that list.

    One of the other bloggers targeted for spreading what the government called "false news" posted a video of alleged torture and rape in an Egyptian prison (Video Link, warning: contains extremely graphic violence).

    Wael Abbas, the blogger who posted a copy of that torture video, reportedly also has a warrant out for his arrest.

    Blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah says he wasn't tortured during his 47 days in jail last year, but knows others who have been.

    Egyptian activist and blogger Mohammed el-Sharqawi, 24, was tortured and sodomized “using a rolled up piece of cardboard for nearly 15 minutes” according to his lawyer Gamal Eid. Human rights groups say Egyptian authorities have yet to investigate or prosecute the police officers accused.

    Kareem Amer’s supporters are worried that similar abuses may await Kareem Amer, the blogger now just beginning his four year sentence.

    Lawrence Wright documented the genesis of Al-Qaeda in his book The Looming Tower, and he says torture is rampant in Egypt's jails.

    "We need to be much more universal in our condemnation of torture in Egypt," says Wright.

    He argues that the US should also support due process and humane treatment for Islamist prisoners, not just reformist bloggers like Kareem.

    "There's a greater risk in not advocating for those values for both sides. The Islamists in prison in Egypt pose a real threat when they get out," Wright says. "If we advocate for their rights, if not for their cause, we stand a better chance of having some kind of understanding."

    Nabil Fahmy is the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, and he believes much progress is being made on social and political reforms. But he admits that how Egypt’s government and society go forward in dealing with bloggers still remains a question mark.

    Meanwhile, a coalition of Kareem’s supporters are campaigning for his release, including organizing protests at Egyptian embassies around the world. Coordinator Constantino Diaz-Duran in New York says because Kareem’s own family have disowned their son, the group plans to provide some of the necessities prisoners in Egypt generally depend on families to provide: medicine, clothing, food.

    Kareem's father has said that he would like to see Islamic Sharia law applied. This would give Kareem three days to repent, or face execution. As dire that sounds, this may be one of his last remaining options. On Monday, an Egyptian court rejected an appeal for Kareem's release, a move the US State Department has condemned.

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    Image: supporters from demonstrate for Kareem's freedom at the Egyptian government's booth at the world tourism trade fair in Paris (Courtesy Reporters Without Borders).

    (Special thanks to Ethan Zuckerman, and NPR News producer Nihar Patel!)

    Previously on BoingBoing:

  • Egypt: blogger Kareem Amer gets 4 years for insulting Islam
  • WaPo editorial on jailed Egyptian blogger, and US responsibility
  • Egyptian blogger Alaa to be released from prison