Amnesty International is calling for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Abdel Kareem Nabil, 22, a former al-Azhar University law student who is on trial for criticizing Egypt’s President Husni Mubarak, al-Azhar religious authorities, and Islam in writings posted on his blog. He is accused of “spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country’s reputation,” “incitement to hate Islam,” and “defaming the President of the Republic.” His trial began on January 18, 2007.
Nabil, who used the name Kareem Amer in his blog postings, is not the only blogger to be arrested for pro-democracy views in Egypt, but he is the first to be prosecuted. Other bloggers who have been detained and released wrote mainly about their political views. In addition to discussing politics, Nabil wrote frequently about religion, criticizing conservative Muslims.
If convicted, Nabil may be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. According to Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, this case has serious implications for other bloggers who are trying to bring attention to human rights violations in Egypt. In Smart’s view, Nabil’s trial is clearly meant to intimidate bloggers and suppress criticism of the Egyptian government. Because Nabil is being tried simply for expressing his opinions, Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.
Egyptian authorities first brought action against Nabil in October 2005, taking him into custody for 12 days. They objected to writings on his blog, http://karam903.blogspot.com, in which he denounced recent sectarian riots in the Maharram Bek district of Alexandria. The riots erupted over the screening of a videotaped play which was thought to be anti-Islam. Muslim protestors attacked a Coptic Christian church where the play was being viewed.
Following his release, Nabil was barred from attending al-Azhar University in March 2006, on the grounds of blaspheming Islam. He had sharply criticized the school on his blog, calling it “the university of terrorism” and a force for radical Islam. Al-Azhar is a prominent Sunni Muslim institution.
After the university made a complaint against Nabil, the Public Prosecutor in Maharram Bek ordered on November 7, 2006 that he be detained for 4 days. The length of his detention has been repeatedly extended; as a result, he has been in custody for nearly 3 months. Nabil has been kept in solitary confinement and prohibited from communicating with the outside world, including his lawyers. It was not until late January that he was finally permitted to have visits from relatives.
Sources: Amnesty International (http://news.amnesty.org)
CBS News (http://www.cbsnews.com)