- A court in Egypt jailed a young blogger to serve four years in prison after he was found guilty of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. The first imprisonment of a blogger in Egypt has received blunt criticisms both at home and abroad, with media rights activists blaming the North African country of continuing its clamp down on freedom of expression.
The 22-year-old Abdel-Karim Nabil Suleiman, who uses a pen name called Karim Amer, a law student at Al-Azhar University in the capital Cairo, was sentenced by an Alexandria court on Thursday. Al-Azhar is the pre-eminent higher learning institution in Sunni Islam.
He was expelled at Al-Azhar University accused of criticising the institution's curriculum and condemning the Islamic extremism allegedly being promoted there. Mr Suleiman was also accused of referring to President Mubarak as a dictator - something which not is uncommon in Egypt.
After his arrest in November 2006, Mr Suleiman was charged with spreading information that violates public order, incitement to hate Muslims and insulting the President. Egyptian authorities were annoyed with him for posting eight articles on his Internet blog.
In 2005, the young blogger hit hard on Muslims for taking part in sectarian riots in Alexandria. He was arrested and detained for condemning the clashes in an article headlined "The Naked Truth of Islam as I Saw it."
Hafiz Abu Saada of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said the judgment should serve as a signal to all bloggers that they are being trailed. "This is a strong message to all bloggers who are put under strong surveillance that the punishment will be very strong," he said.
Mr Suleiman was among several Egyptian bloggers arrested last year. Most of those arrested at the time had connections with Egypt's pro-democracy reform movement and were later freed. But Egyptian authorities, who have been planning to deal with the young blogger, decided to put him on trial, arguing that his writings were "too sensitive".
"This sets a chilling precedent in a country where blogs have opened a window for free speech. The Egyptian government should abide by its commitments to uphold free expression and release Suleiman without delay," Sarah Leah Whitson from the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Amnesty International described it as "yet another slap in the face of freedom for expression in Egypt."
Of late, bloggers have used their sites to report on taboos and challenge governments in the Arab world about democracy, human rights and good governance. They venture into issues that are no-go areas for the traditional media. So far, only a Tunisian blogger has been jailed for his opinions. Other Arab countries block access to Internet sites relating to pornography and gambling.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) last year blacklisted Egypt for being an enemy of press freedom and expression.
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