Abdel Karim Suleiman, who goes by the online moniker Karim Amer, was today convicted of insulting Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. A criminal court in the northern city of Alexandria sentenced him to four years in prison, according to international news reports.
Suleiman, a 22-year-old former student at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the preeminent higher learning institution in Sunni Islam, had frequently criticized Islam, Al-Azhar, which he accused of promoting extremist ideas, and Mubarak, who he referred to as a dictator. In 2005, Suleiman had criticized Muslims after sectarian riots in Alexandria. He was expelled from Al-Azhar in 2006 and then arrested in November 2006 and charged for his online writings.
“Egypt’s repression of critical journalism has now spread online,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The four-year jail term handed down to Abdel Karim Suleiman is outrageous, and he should be freed immediately.”
The Internet has become an increasingly important forum for Egyptians publishing independent news and political opinion. In the last year, the government has detained several bloggers affiliated with the country’s pro-democracy movement, but Suleiman’s case is the first in which an Internet writer has been prosecuted for his published material.
In recent months, authorities have carried out wide-scale arrests of political oppositionists and arrested and prosecuted members of the media.
In January, authorities detained Al-Jazeera producer Howayda Taha Matwali in connection with her work on a documentary about torture. Authorities found unedited footage showing re-enactments of reported incidents of torture in Egyptian police stations, which Matwali planned to use in a documentary she was preparing for the satellite channel. She was charged with harming national interests and falsely depicting events. Her trial in a state security court resumes March 7 and she faces a year or more in prison if convicted.
On February 27, an appeal court will hear the case of Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of independent weeklies Al-Dustour and Sawt al-Umma, and Sahar Zaki, a reporter for Al-Dustour, who were each sentenced in June 2006 to a year in prison for publishing a report critical of Mubarak. The case against Eissa stemmed from an April 2005 news item that reported efforts by an Egyptian lawyer to take Mubarak and his family to court on allegations of corruption, including the alleged misuse of foreign aid. The lawyer, Said Abdullah, was also sentenced to a year in jail.
To date, Mubarak has failed to deliver on a highly publicized February 2004 promise to journalists that he would eliminate prison penalties against journalists in Egypt. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights documented 85 criminal court cases brought against journalists from February 2004 to July 2006. Most of those prosecuted had written about official corruption.