As President Bush prepares to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this weekend, U.S. Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) sent a letter with 13 of their colleagues to President Bush urging him to call for the release of Kareem.
Kirk, Frank to President Bush: Pressure Egyptian Government to Release First Imprisoned Arab Blogger
Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman imprisoned for condemning Islamic extremism and defending women and minorities
First blogger in Egypt convicted for peaceful Internet expression
WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.), along with 13 other Republicans and Democrats sent a letter to President Bush today urging him to press Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to release human rights activist and blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman. Soliman was convicted for condemning Islamic extremism for its poor treatment of women and minorities on his blog. The case has attracted strong international attention and the personal interest of the President.
“Over the past year, the human rights of Egyptians have deteriorated, specifically with regard to freedom of expression,” said Congressman Kirk, a member of the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. “Hundreds of prisoners of conscience are sitting in Egyptian prisons, but perhaps the most troubling case is that of young human rights activist and blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman. His only crime was speaking out against extremists who seek to persecute women and minorities. For that, the Egyptian government sentenced him to rot in prison for four years. We have a unique opportunity to right this injustice – President Bush should call on Egyptian President Mubarak to release Soliman and reestablish the freedom of expression that every person, regardless of location, deserves.”
Mr. Soliman is known more commonly by his Internet pen name “Kareem Amer.” In March 2006, he was expelled from his religious university for comments posted on his blog denouncing the university’s discriminatory teachings and practices. “I call on Egyptian government officials to take the necessary procedures to protect the Egyptian youth from the spread of subversive religious ideologies among them by permanently shutting down religious institutions in this country,” Soliman wrote. “Shutting them down will stop the prevalence of the tone of hatred and sectarian enmity, heated by what [religious university] students study from things that incite [the] hatred and scorn of non-Muslims.” Soliman was later arrested by the government and convicted of “contempt of religion” and “defaming the President of Egypt.” On February 22, 2007, he was sentenced to four years in jail.
“It is inevitable that the Internet will grow, and so too must the freedoms that founded it,” the lawmakers wrote. “We therefore request that you press President Mubarak to commute the sentence of or grant amnesty to Mr. Soliman as a way to show that Egypt is a force for moderation on the Internet, our new global village. By accepting broad liberties within this vast new medium, Egypt can demonstrate its role as a pioneer in showing tolerance to different and new ideas.”
Egyptian prisoners are occasionally released by the President in honor of various national holidays, including the recent release of 861 prisoners to mark the anniversary of the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. July 23, Revolution Day, is Egypt’s next national holiday.
Bush will meet with Mubarak on Saturday. The bipartisan Kirk-Frank letter is below.
Dear Mr. President:
As Members of Congress concerned about freedom of speech in Egypt, we are writing in advance of your visit with President Mubarak to respectfully request that you strongly urge him to release human rights advocate and blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman.
Egypt and the United States are allies in the fight against extremism in the Arab world. A new part of this effort is the establishment of Internet rights, such as blogging. The right to peaceful, free expression through newspapers or now the Web will have an enormous impact on the reputations of nascent democracies, especially for the new generation under forty that now seems to live on the Internet.
Mr. Soliman, known more commonly by his Internet pen name Kareem Amer, was convicted for statements made on his personal web blog condemning Islamic extremism for its poor treatment of women and minorities. On February 22, 2007, he was sentenced to a total of four years in prison. While we recognize his comments were offensive to many Egyptians and Muslims around the world, this sentence sets a troubling precedent. Mr. Soliman is the first blogger in the Arab world to be convicted for the expression of personal views.
We recognize that Egyptian law is sensitive to all denigration of religion and protects Islam, Christianity and Judaism from any religious defamation. However, Egypt must honor these laws under its commitment to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These solemn international agreements state that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” Such rights include “the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
It is inevitable that the Internet will grow, and so too must the freedoms that founded it. To continue on the path of modernization, development and reform, it is critical that Egypt expand the scope of acceptable Internet dialogue such that expressing views on religious extremism does not constitute a violation of law.
The Egyptian judiciary has on occasion commuted the sentence of political prisoners. Journalist Howayda Taha Matwali was convicted of making or possessing pictures likely to harm the country’s reputation in January, 2007, but the Court vacated her prison sentence just this past February.
The Egyptian Constitution also affords the President the right to grant amnesty or commute a sentence. President Mubarak has exercised this right on a number of occasions, including the release of 861 prisoners to mark the anniversary of the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Revolution Day, July 23, would seem the perfect opportunity to commute Mr. Soliman’s sentence to time served, seventeen months.
We therefore request that you press President Mubarak to commute the sentence of or grant amnesty to Mr. Soliman as a way to show that Egypt is a force for moderation on the Internet, our new global village. By accepting broad liberties within this vast new medium, Egypt can demonstrate its role as a pioneer in showing tolerance to different and new ideas.
Thank you for your attention to this precedent-setting case. We look forward to working with you on this and other human rights abuses around the world.
Mark Steven Kirk, Member of Congress
Barney Frank, Member of Congress
Frank R. Wolf, Member of Congress
William D. Delahunt, Member of Congress
Christopher H. Smith, Member of Congress
Al Green, Member of Congress
Ted Poe, Member of Congress
Bob Inglis, Member of Congress
Robert B. Aderholt, Member of Congress
Shelley Berkley, Member of Congress
Trent Franks, Member of Congress
Thaddeus McCotter, Member of Congress
Howard Berman, Member of Congress
John Conyers, Jr., Member of Congress
Joe Courtney, Member of Congress