An Egyptian court this week sentenced blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman (pictured above) to four years in prison. He is the first person in Egypt to be jailed for internet-based journalism.
He was charged with "inciting hatred of Islam" and insulting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his blog, where he wrote under the pseudonym of "Kareem Amer": Link (Arabic), here is his Blogger.com profile, and here are writings he posted on a discussion forum: Link (Arabic).
The sentence comes three years after Mubarak announced he would abolish the practice of imprisonment for "press offenses."
Snip from AP coverage of the sentencing on Thursday:
Nabil [Kareem Amer], wearing a gray T-shirt and sitting in the defendants pen, gave no reaction and his face remained still as the verdict was read. He made no comment to reporters as he was immediate led outside to a prison truck.
Seconds after he was loaded into the truck and the door closed, an Associated Press reporter heard the sound of a slap from inside the vehicle and a shriek of pain from Nabil.
Snip from Reporters Without Borders statement:
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.
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 (Link). 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: Link).
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 imprisoned despite the semblance of a reform last year. (For more on this: Link).
Link to the "Free Kareem" website set up by his supporters.
Human rights organization Amnesty International condemned the sentence, and also calls for Kareem's release: Link.
One of those posts points to a blogger in Egypt called "Sandmonkey," who wrote this troubling update:
[Embattled Egyptian Blogger] Abdel Kareem’s father announced today that he is disowning Abdel Kareem, and that he would like to see Sharia Law applied to his son, in which he would have 3 days to repent at the end of which if he is not repentant, he would be killed.
Image: Associated Press.