A military court in Egypt sentenced a blogger and activist Monday to three years in jail for “insulting the military” and publishing false information.
Twenty-six-year-old Maikel Nabil, who was arrested last month, is thought to be the first blogger jailed in Egypt since the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak.
Activists said the trial shows that while Egypt is trying to move away from the abuses of ex-president Mubarak’s regime, the Supreme Military Counil is seeking to keep repressive measures in place.
Nabil purportedly sent a blogger a letter from jail, which was published here. In the letter, he writes:
This is the seventh time I was arrested .. Twice in Syria, and twice at the hands of Egyptian police, and three times at the hands of the army... How many more times is this required of me before I can live free?
Blogging has been a dangerous business in Egypt long before popular uprisings shook the country earlier this year. As early as 2002, the Egypt’s Ministry of Interior created a department to monitor and prosecute Internet crime.
Many bloggers have since been arrested and beaten, the most high profile case being that of Kareem Amer, who was sentenced in 2007 to three years of imprisonment for insulting Islam and one year for insulting Mubarak.
Blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy, who has blogged on the protests in Egypt on arabawy.org and released a set of controversial protest photos that were censored on Flickr, has been arrested, questioned and tortured several times during his career.
Egypt is not alone. A 2009 report by the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders found a a sharp rise in action being taken against bloggers in many countries worldwide. The year 2009 was the first in which more than 100 bloggers and cyber-dissidents were imprisoned, the report found.
Despite the rising numbers of arrests, it is difficult to qualify how much more dangerous blogging has become, as many bloggers are also activists, and it is often unclear for which activity they are being arrested.
Either way, blogging remains an unsafe activity in countries with both oppressive leaders and democratic leaders alike.
China was named the leading Internet censor by RWB in 2009. The April 3 arrest of prominent Chinese artist, activist, and blogger Ai Weiwei, a critic of the Communist regime, has shown not much has changed since.
Weiwei was arrested in part because of increasing concern by the Chinese government that activists want to launch a “Jasmine Revolution” similar to the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran was given the “grim distinction” of having arrested and jailed the most bloggers in 2006, and the crackdown on online dissent appears to have only increased since their disputed 2009 presidential election.
In Azerbaijan, blogging is considered a criminal offense. Cuba once again attacked dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez in March, accusing of her of being part of a “cyberwar”. Iran, Tunisia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan were also listed by RWB as using Web site blocking and online surveillance to monitor and control dissent.
The West most often hears about a crackdown on bloggers as a means of stifling democracy. But the 2009 RWB report notes that democratic nations have also taken steps to control blogging, often under the pretense that they’re protecting the country against child porn and illegal downloading.
Italian courts in 2009 ruled that blogs were officially “secret newspapers,” and therefore almost always illegal.
A senior EU politician has said that freedom of speech on the Internet did not need to be protected.
Just as governments around the world seek to silence bloggers, bloggers refuse to remain silent.
Italian comic and anti-corruption activist Beppe Grille joked that he would move to Switzerland to escape the “blog-killer law,” but has continued to blog every since.
Organizations like the Committee to Protect Bloggers and Reporters Without Borders formally give voice to online dissenters and tally the number of government actions against them.
Perhaps most effectively, online rallying cries ensure that no bloggers case simply fades away.
An outpouring of support online for Nabil has only risen in volume since his arrest. Supporters in Egypt around the world are using the hashtag #MaikelNabil or #FreeMaikel on Twitter and have created Free Maikel Facebook pages. Bloggers won’t stop talking about him. A petition against his sentencing was started here.
One supported tweeted:
It seems unlikely the Supreme Military Council will be pressured by the Free Nabil campaign, but the campaign may continue to grow louder all the same.
(Thank you, James Buck!)