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Egypt: Blogger Kareem's Plight Continues to Grab Headlines

Once again the plight of Egyptian jailed blogger Kareem Nabeel Sulaiman grabs the headlines, along with support pledges from bloggers around the world.

An Alexandria Appeal Court today upheld Kareem's four-year prison sentence for insulting both Islam and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on his personal blog.

Egyptian blogger Ibn Al Dunya was quick to report the development.

An appeals court in Alexandria upheld the four years sentence that Abd al Karim Nabil sulaiman(known as Kareem Amer) recieved on the 22 of February by the Muharam Beq misdemeanour's court. One of Kareem´s defence lawyers, Gamal Eid who is the head of the told the AFP news agency that:
“The verdict was not handed down on the basis of the law. It is a religious verdict similar to those of the inquisition.”

Hossam el-Hamalawy, writing in The Arabist, tells us more.

“An Alexandrian Appeals court upheld the four year prison sentence given to blogger Kareem Amer, for the crime of ‘insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak.’
Moreover, the court accepted a Hessba case, filed by a fundamentalist lawyer against Kareem. Hessba, as interpreted by the regime’s theologians, gives the right to any Muslim citizen to file a lawsuit or get involved as a party to a legal case, if s/he deems something as an ‘assault on Islam.’ (Yes, this is happening in Mubarak’s Egypt, whose regime the Western governments like to describe as ‘secularist’),,” he writes.

Writing in Arabic, Egyptian blogger A'ala Abdulfattah, claims that the original ruling was illegal because it was based on clauses which have since been amended in the law.

Meanwhile, Giraldus Cambrensis, blogging at Western Resistance, calls for the suspension of US aid to Egypt until it starts protecting freedom of speech.

“It should be noted that for the past 25 years, America has spent billions in aid to the shabby political regime of Egypt, via its USAID program. If America is so bothered about a lack of democracy in countries like Iraq, then perhaps US citizens should be lobbying their congressmen. While Hosni Mubarak does not allow freedom of speech to those who would criticize him, then perhaps USAID money should be suspended until this freedom of speech, a sine quae non of democracy, is actually practiced in Egypt,” noted the blogger.

Ben H, from The Daily Transit, says blogging against Islam or the state in the Middle East is a dangerous territory.

“But while this sorry case may be the first in Egypt, it isn’t the first in the region – nor is it the harshest sentence. In 2005, the Iranian government sentenced blogger Arash Cigarchi to 14 years, according to Human Rights Watch. A BBC report on the sentence says that Cigarchi was charged with “spying and aiding foreign counter-revolutionaries,” – translate: he criticized the arrests of other online journalists. This set off a chain of other criticism and ensuing arrests, including a three year sentence for cleric Mojtaba Lotfi and 18 months Mojtab Saminejad (Reporters sans frontieres).

“Blogs have become the pinnacle of free and personal expression, uninhibited by overhead costs, advertisers, time, or (for better or worse) notions of objectivity – but all of this can be crushed by an intolerant and fearful government. We should be wary of this in our own nations, and lend our support to those who are struggling. Best of luck to Kareem in his appeal, and freedom to the caged voices of Iran,” he writes.

On its part, Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning Egypt as an Internet Enemy.

“All of Egypt’s Internet users are being targeted through Suleiman. A threat is now hanging over their heads. We fear that other arrests and website closures could soon take place as the authorities seem to have decided to bring Internet users into line,” it said.

“During today’s appeal hearing, the presiding judge ruled that the courts could accept complaints brought by individual lawyers demanding reparations from Suleiman for “insulting” Islam in his blog, for which he used the pseudonym “Kareem Amer.” He said Suleiman would appear soon before a civil court, which could order him to pay damages to lawyers who had brought complaints,” added the statement.

The organisation said the ruling comes 24 hours after an Egyptian judge filed a complaint against 21 other websites he accused of attacking Mubarak.

“Alexandria appeal court president Abdel Fattah Murad yesterday brought a complaint against the Egyptian government, demanding the closure of 21 websites that ‘attack the President of the Republic.’ Local sources told Reporters Without Borders that the website of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and the very popular blogs Baheyya and Gharbeia were among the sites concerned,” said the statement.

“Egypt is one of the countries which Reporters Without Borders has identified as Internet Enemies. Nonetheless, it has been asked by the United Nations to host an Internet Governance Forum in 2009.”

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