Egyptian Blogger Gets 4 Years in Prison

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 22, 2007; 2:40 PM

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- An Egyptian blogger was convicted Thursday and sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and Egypt's president, sending a chill through fellow Internet writers who fear a government crackdown.

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, had been a vocal secularist and sharp critic of conservative Muslims in his blog. He often lashed out at Al-Azhar -- the most prominent religious center in Sunni Islam -- calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of encouraging extremism.

Nabil's lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, said he would appeal the verdict, adding it will "terrify other bloggers and have a negative impact on freedom of expression in Egypt." Nabil had faced a possible maximum sentence of nine years in prison.

His conviction brought a flood of condemnations from international and Egyptian human rights groups, as well as fellow government critics on the Internet.

"I am shocked," said Wael Abbas, a blogger who writes frequently about police abuses and other human rights violations in Egypt. "This is a terrible message to anyone who intends to express his opinion and to bloggers in particular."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media rights group, said Internet writers and editors are the fastest growing segment of imprisoned journalists, with 49 behind bars as of December.

"With this verdict, Egypt has opened up a new front in its efforts to stifle media freedoms," said Joel Campagna, the group's senior Middle East program coordinator.

In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he had no specific comment on Nabil's case, adding the U.S. is always concerned when freedom of expression is infringed.

Judge Ayman al-Akazi sentenced Nabil to three years in prison for insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and inciting sectarian strife and another year for insulting President Hosni Mubarak.

Nabil, sitting in the defendant's pen, did not react as the verdict was read and made no comments as he was led to a prison truck outside. Seconds after the door was closed, an Associated Press reporter heard a slap from inside the truck and a scream.

Egypt, a top U.S. ally in the Mideast, arrested a number of bloggers last year, most of them for connections to the pro-democracy reform movement. Nabil was put on trial while other bloggers were freed -- a sign of the sensitivity of his writings on religion.

Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, was an unusually scathing critic of conservative Muslims. His frequent attacks on Al-Azhar, where he was a law student, led the university to expel him in March, then push prosecutors to bring him to trial.

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