Blogger reaches two-year mark in prison

New York, November 6, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the continued imprisonment of an Egyptian blogger jailed two years ago on Friday.

Abdel Karim Suleiman, 24, was arrested on November 7, 2006, and sentenced in February 2007 by a court in Alexandria to three years in prison for insulting Islam and one year for defaming President Hosni Mubarak. An appeals court upheld the verdict in March 2007. His lawyers told CPJ that their appeal to the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest jurisdiction, 16 months ago, remained unanswered. CPJ wrote to President George Bush in January to ask him to press for Suleiman’s release.

“We call on the Court of Cassation to immediately hear this case, which we hope will be overturned based on its merits,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “President Mubarak promised in 2004 to reform Egypt’s press law and end criminal penalties for the press. We are dismayed that he has not kept that promise.”

Suleiman, whose imprisonment and ill-treatment by prison guards over the past two years prompted worldwide waves of condemnation, was the first blogger to be sentenced to prison in Egypt.

Suleiman accused Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, where he had been a student, of promoting extremist ideas, and he referred to Mubarak as a dictator. In 2005, he 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 writing.

“Suleiman was first a victim of an unfair trial,” the blogger’s attorney, Rawada Ahmed Sayed, of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told CPJ. “And today he is the victim of a new form of injustice, because how can we explain that our appeal on his behalf has not been answered for 16 months, when other appeals are examined in less than six months?”

In a letter posted on Thursday on the network’s Web site, Suleiman, who goes by the online moniker Karim Amer, wrote: “I have a dream to leave prison. But I will never let anybody bargain about my freedom and fate, even if I have to spend the rest of my life behind bars. My right to freedom of opinion and my pen are more valuable than anything and above bargaining.”

Editor’s note: The original text of this alert has been changed to correct the date of sentencing.