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Reporters Without Borders notes that:
A court in Al Zohor (west of Cairo) fined blogger Tamer Mabrouk (http://elhakika.blogspot.com) 2,500 Egyptian pounds (340 euros) on 20 January for allegedly libelling an Egyptian company, Trust Chemicals, in a blog entry accusing it of dumping hazardous waste in Lake Manzalah and the Suez Canal. The company filed its lawsuit last June.
Mabrouk’s lawyer, Rawda Ahmed, said it was the first time an Egyptian blogger had been sued by a private company over a blog entry.
Rawda is also Kareem’s lawyer. Kareem is still serving his 4 year prison sentence, which he received merely because of his blog posts.
A manifestation in support of Kareem was held today outside the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm. Speakers included Fredrik Malm, a member of the Swedish Parliament, and writer Johan Norberg who has met Kareem.
Along with the demonstration photos, organizer Jonas Virdalm sends a touching remark:
My only personal wish in this is that I will be able to meet Kareem one day. I hope by doing this I have made Kareem understand that there are people all around the world that want all the best for him.
Jonas speaks in front of the Egyptian Embassy.
Swedish Parliament member Fredrik Malm demands Kareem Amer’s release.
Johan Norberg speaks to the crowd in front of the Embassy.
An Egyptian Embassy employee looks out at the protesting crowd. During the demonstration, Embassy employees were staring outside from their offices.
Thank you all for taking the time to rally for Kareem’s freedom.
On February 15, 2007, along with other cities worldwide, residents of Washington, D.C., marched to the Egyptian Embassy, protested Kareem’s imprisonment, and handed out flyers to people passing by. Thank you!
Pictures (with thanks to Jason):
The Washington Post, a leading daily American newspaper and the largest newspaper in Washington, D.C., has published an article on Kareem Amer’s unjust imprisonment: The ‘Crime’ Of Blogging In Egypt.
The co-authors, an Associate Dean for Resource Development at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank), describe the circumstances the lead to Kareem’s imprisonment, and explain why the Egyptian government is mistaken to have him imprisoned.
The ‘Crime’ Of Blogging In Egypt
By Raja M. Kamal and Tom G. Palmer
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; Page A15
A former college student, Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, is sitting in an Egyptian prison, awaiting sentencing tomorrow. His alleged “crime”: expressing his opinions on a blog. His mistake: having the courage to do so under his own name.
Soliman, 22, was expelled from Al-Azhar University last spring for sharply criticizing the university’s rigid curriculum and faulting religious extremism on his blog. He was ordered to appear before a public prosecutor on Nov. 7 on charges of “spreading information disruptive of public order,” “incitement to hate Muslims” and “insulting the President.” Soliman was detained pending an investigation, and the detention has been renewed four times. He has not had consistent access to lawyers or to his family.
Egyptian authorities have made a mistake in prosecuting Soliman. It is Egypt that will be hurt if he is convicted and sent to prison. That’s why sincere friends of Egypt call on the government to drop the charges against him. It is the right thing to do, and it is the best thing for Egypt’s standing in the modern world.
The case has gained attention in newspapers the world over and from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Informal networks of bloggers have spread the word, notably through http://www.freekareem.org. Last Thursday, bloggers and human rights activists around the globe gathered to call on Egyptian authorities to respect freedom of speech. We echo this call.
Soliman has criticized Egyptian authorities as failing to protect the rights of religious minorities and women. He has expressed his views about religious extremism in very strong terms. He is the first Egyptian blogger to be prosecuted for the content of his remarks. Remarkably, the legal complaint originated with the university that had expelled him; once, it was a great center of learning in the Arab world, but it has been reduced to informing on students for their dissent from orthodoxy.
One of us, Tom Palmer, met Soliman at a conference for bloggers in the Middle East last year. In person, Soliman seemed quiet and shy but very committed to championing women’s rights and the rights of minorities.
We kept in touch by G-mail chat. Despite occasional admonitions to be careful about what he posted online and to think about possible consequences of public dissent, Soliman said that he was not afraid to express his views.
Last October, Soliman instant-messaged that he had been ordered to attend an interview with prosecutors the next day. Friends at organizations such as Hands Across the Middle East Support Alliance and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information quickly found Soliman a lawyer. Word spread when he had been detained, and protests were organized at Egyptian embassies. Soliman had no organized movement or group behind him, but his case came to be known around the world.
We find it shocking that a university would turn a student over to the authorities to be prosecuted for voicing his views. The future of learning and science is at risk when dissenting views are punished rather than debated. Jointly, we have contacted Egyptian authorities to ask that they correct a clear mistake and release Soliman.
Egypt is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees 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.” The exceptions allowed are narrowly drawn and require proof of “necessity” before restrictions can be imposed. The posting of opinions on a student’s personal blog hardly qualifies as a threat to national security, to the reputation of the president or to public order.
Soliman is not a threat to Egypt, but this prosecution is.
Whether or not we agree with the opinions that Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman expressed is not the issue. What matters is a principle: People should be free to express their opinions without fear of being imprisoned or killed. Blogging should not be a crime.
Raja M. Kamal is associate dean for resource development at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Tom G. Palmer is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and director of the Byrne Project on Middle East Liberty.
Raja M. Kamal and Tom G. Palmer have also written about Kareem in yesterday’s edition of The Daily Star, a Lebanon-based, pan-Middle East English language newspaper: Freedom for an Egyptian blogger and freethinker. Below are excerpts:
The adoption of new technology in the Arab world is in full gear. With the absence of free press and media outlets, citizens are now turning to external media outlets such as CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera to obtain less filtered news, and to the Internet as a venue to express and share their thoughts. In his Weblog, Abdelkareem voiced a rather sharp criticism of Al-Azhar University, its archaic and rigid curriculum that entices and fosters religious extremism, and the Egyptian government. He was subsequently expelled from the institution.
Although we feel the opinions he expressed were strongly worded and he could have chosen less aggressive and contentious words, Abdelkareem raises legitimate issues and concerns of paramount importance to the Egyptian society. For example, the rigid academic curricula at Egyptian (and other Arab) colleges are in need of overhauling at the very least. Universities, such as Al-Azhar, lack a commitment to critical thinking and have failed to help their students integrate in the modern globalizing world.
We strongly feel that sending Abdelkareem to jail will not solve Egypt’s problems but rather will help create a larger wedge of mistrust between the government and its people. This will force bloggers to go underground, publishing their blogs under assumed names.
Policies of restricting free expression are doomed to fail. What the government of Egypt must do is to accept and embrace new technology like the Internet and use it as a source of constructive dialogue that will advance discussion on topics of importance to the Egyptian people. Issues like transparency, educational reform, personal liberties, and the role of women must be debated, advanced, and resolved. Egypt will greatly benefit from having thousands of bloggers debating and exchanging ideas in cyberspace.
The government of Egypt must reach out to people like Abdelkareem because they are a much-needed source of reform on all levels. Citizens should be free to express their personal opinions without fear of being imprisoned or killed. The mind and the parachute have one thing in common. They only work when they are open.
Thank you gentlemen. Thank you.
Kareem’s father talks to Al-Masree Al-Yawm (‘The Egyptian Today’) on Kareem’s past, and accuses a feminist writer and a leader of the expatriate Copts of leading his son to his “heresy”. (Hat tip: Dalia).
The article is in Arabic. Here’s my translation, in full:
The Family of the Accused of Contempt of Religion Accuses Nawal El Saadawi and Adli Abadeer of Encouraging Him to Infidelity
Written by Naser El Sharqawy
(Photo: The father of the accused.)
The family of Al-Azhar [University] student Muhammad Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, who is accused of contempt of religion, and whose verdict will be delivered by the Alexandria Criminal Court on the upcoming Thursday, has accused writer Nawal El Saadawi and Adli Abadeer, a leader of the expatriate Copts, of being behind his heresy and infidelity.
The father of the accused, an engineer in the Alexandria Directorate of Agriculture, asserted that his son was in constant touch with El Saadawi and Abadeer after he established an Internet Web site attacking the masculine society and women’s rights in Islam. He also constantly published articles on Coptic Web sites that contained insults to Islam and to the messenger [the prophet of Islam] – peace and blessings be upon him -.
His father added: “Following the publication of these writings, I requested that he desist from these thoughts so he does not get expelled from his studies at the Faculty of Sharia [Islamic law] at Al-Azhar. And indeed, a disciplinary hearing was held in the university and some scholars conversed with him. However, he insisted on his position and thus he was transferred to the Prosecutor. And when he refused to back down from his thoughts, he was referred to trial with the charge of contempt of religion.”
His father revealed that, when his son started attending university, he refused to live with students who listen to music.
His father also said that his son abandoned his studies, got interested in forming friendships through the Internet, and constantly visited Christian Web sites. After that, he was arrested following the events of the Moharam Bek church in Alexandria, because of articles he published commenting on the events of the sectarian sedition then. He was held for 18 days. Following his release, some Internet bloggers contacted him, and they convinced him that they were the reason he got out of prison.
His father asserted that after that [incident], his son initiated declaring his damaging opinions, to the extent that they were surprised with him informing them that he will openly break the fast in the end of the month of Ramadan. His father accused the human rights organizations for losing his son’s opportunity to declare his repentance, and that’s by their aiding and defending him.
Previously reported by Al-Masree Al-Yawm: Kareem’s Family Disowns Him; Father Wants Him Killed If He Does Not “Repent”
Blogosfere, an Italian network of 150 blogs of professional information, has created an excellent video of still photos taken during the February 15 rallies in Rome and London:
A couple of pictures from Rome with thanks to Alberto:
Among those present in the rally were Italian politician Daniele Capezzone and Senator Francisco Compagna.
Much thanks to Constantino and Chris for holding a second rally on February 15th in The Big Apple (the first was on January 31st):
The NYC rally was a little smaller than last time. The weather was horrible, and the condition of the streets dreadful (piles of dirty snow everywhere, melting into a nasty, muddy slush), so no one really wanted to be out on the street that day. Still, we were able to distribute about 100 fliers with information about Kareem, and asking people to visit www.FreeKareem.org and sign the petitions.
The people at the Mission came out to get fliers from us and ask why we were there. We were just a block away from the UN, and it was right around closing time, so most of those 100 fliers went to foreign workers and diplomats. Several showed interest and thanked us for calling attention to this.
And without further delay: Pictures!
Well done, Soldiers of Truth. I salute you all.
The February 15 London rally organizer, Andrew Perraut, reports on the event with positive news:
I’m happy to report that it went very well. We had fewer people than expected, but it was a good group, with representatives from LSE, Amnesty International, the Institute for Economic Affairs, and the International Policy Network. We also attracted a writer for the Index on Censorship–he tells me that they are watching Kareem’s case very closely and are considering naming his as one of the most important cases of the year. There was also a documentary filmmaker who has produced a piece on Egyptian bloggers; she hopes to have segments including our rally aired on BBC 4.
We handed out quite a few fliers and got support from some of the people passing by. Our group was directly across from the Embassy and looking into their windows, which they quickly closed. Still, people from the inside were watching us through the curtains almost constantly, and one woman from the Embassy came outside to take some of our fliers. I’ve attached some pictures of the rally for you to see.
And here are the pictures, with thanks to Andrew and Blogosfere:
UPDATE (February 20, 2007):
Blogosfere has created an excellent video of still photos taken during the February 15 rallies in Rome and London:
Our wonderful friends in Sweden inform us that a manifestation in support for Kareem will be held on Wednesday, February 21st outside the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm. Speakers will include a member of the Swedish Parliament, Fredrik Malm, and Johan Norberg (who has met Kareem). I encourage anyone near the area to attend.
Here are the details on the event (thanks to Johan and Jonas):
The Egyptian blogger Abdelkareem has been detained since November because he spoke his mind. On February 22nd Kareem will be the first Egyptian to stand trial for Internet-based journalism. Because of his arguments for secularism, women’s rights and free speech this 22-year old blogger faces up to 11 years in jail. More information here.
Right now several Swedish bloggers and others are preparing a protest against this attack on freedom of expression. Please help us to show support for human rights in Egypt. Mark your calendar, and if you are a blogger, please spread the word.
Meet us outside the Egyptian Embassy
Strandvägen 35, Stockholm
Wednesday, 21 February, 12.00
Henrik Alexandersson, blogger
Fredrik Malm, Member of Parliament
Johan Norberg, author
Organiser: Jonas Virdalm, <virdalm[at]runbox[dot]com>