Imprisoned Egyptian Blogger Appeals Sentence


CAIRO, Egypt, Feb. 27, 2007 — -- An appeal was filed today on behalf of Abdel Karim Suliman, the first Egyptian blogger to be convicted of defaming Islam and the Egyptian president.

He faces four years in prison.

On his blog, Suliman described President Hosni Mubarak as a corrupt dictator.

He also accused conservative Muslims of brutality during clashes between Muslims and Christians in the city of Alexandria in 2005, and sharply criticized Al Azhar University's curriculum as advocating extremism.

Al Azhar University, a prestigious Sunni Muslim learning institute, dismissed the 22-year-old former Islamic law student before turning him over to prosecutors.

Gamal Eid, Suliman's attorney, says he is pessimistic the appeal will be successful.

"The verdict is a direct message to all opponents: Any criticism of the president will only lead to jail," Eid told ABC News.

This warning doesn't seem to scare blogger Mohamed Sharkawy.

Sharkawy was detained last year for three months after his arrest while demonstrating in support of independence for judges.

"I am angry but not afraid. We were able to raise and expose stories on torture and sexual harassment that would otherwise have gone by unnoticed. We, the bloggers of Egypt, have formed our own public press, one without borders. No matter what the regime does to us, we will not give up our freedom of expression," he said.

The blogging community in Egypt is fast expanding; over the last two years, it grew from 300 bloggers to almost 4,000.

"Active opposition is very weak in Egypt. Most of the political parties we have exist only on paper. This is why bloggers came as a new and positive addition to the few active voices. However, bloggers have a responsibility not to abuse the medium. We need to express our views in a decent and nonoffensive language. We need to be sensitive to the culture and the religion," said Rasah Abdulla, assistant professor of mass communication at the American University in Cairo, and the author of two books on the Internet in the Arab world.

Many bloggers were harassed and detained under an emergency law while they participated in demonstrations over the last year. They were later freed.

Human rights organizations have condemned the government and voiced concern over the future of freedom of expression in Egypt.

The group Reporters Without Borders called Suliman's conviction a "disgrace."

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry defended the court's decision in a statement, saying, "No one, no matter who he might be, has the right to interfere with Egyptian legal matters."

Mubarak, who is launching some constitutional amendments under the banner of citizenship rights, has been facing increased criticism over Egypt's human rights record.

"The Egyptian genie is out of the bottle and should be contained by politics, not by police suppression. Messages sent by the regime are not clear and don't reinforce democracy," said Ahmed Kamal Abu Al Magd, a leading Egyptian intellectual.

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