four years imprisonment for "insulting" Islam, "inciting sectarian strife" and "defaming" President Hosni Mubarak with his Internet writings.
Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, had been a
vocal secularist and sharp critic of radical Muslims in his blog. Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, often lashed out at Al-Azhar – the most prominent religious center in Sunni Islam – calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of encouraging extremism.
Judge Ayman al-Akazi of a court in the city of Alexandria sentenced Nabil to three years in prison for "insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad" and "inciting sectarian strife" and another year for "insulting President" Mubarak.
He said Nabil insulted the Prophet Muhammad especially with a piece he wrote in 2005 after riots in which angry Muslim worshippers attacked a Coptic Christian church over a play deemed offensive to Islam.
"Muslims revealed their true ugly face and appeared to all the world that they are full of brutality, barbarism and inhumanity," Nabil wrote at the time. He called Muhammad and his 7th century followers, the Sahaba, "spillers of blood" for their teachings on warfare – a comment cited by the judge. However court observers also noted that the judge overlooked Nabil’s clarification of the comments. He said Muhammad was "great" but that his teachings on warfare and other issues should be viewed as a product of their times.
In other writings, he reportedly called Al-Azhar the "other face of the coin of [terror network] al-Qaida" and called for the university to be dissolved or turned into a secular institution. He also criticized President Mubarak, calling him "the symbol of tyranny."
Nabil’s lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, said he would appeal the verdict. He and human rights groups also warned that the sentencing could have "a negative impact on freedom of expression" in Egypt. "This sentence is yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director of human rights group Amnesty International (AI) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"The Egyptian authorities must protect the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, even if the views expressed might be perceived by some as offensive." The official said AI considers the blogger "a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression" of his views. AI urged Egypt to "repeal legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion."
"SLAP AND SCREAM"
Nabil, sitting in the defendant’s pen, did not react as the verdict was read and made no comments as he was led to a prison truck outside, eyewitnesses said. Seconds after the door was closed, an Associated Press agency reporter claimed to have heard "a slap from inside the truck and a scream."
Last year another Internet writer, Hala Helmy Botros, was forced to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood, or ‘Copts Without Borders’ about the plight of Copts and to stop writing on this subject for other websites. Botros, who is in her 40s, wrote under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry and became the target of a judicial investigation and was banned from leaving the country, BosNewsLife learned.
Thursday’s sentencing of Nabil came amid growing religious tensions between Muslims and minority Christians in Egypt. This month police reportedly detained Christian families in Upper Egypt and forced them to deny arson attacks on their homes during a spate of anti-Christian violence last week.
Two Coptic Orthodox families said police detained them for 36 hours when they attempted to report a February 13 assault on their homes in Armant, 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Cairo. The fires came five days after Muslim groups set four Christian-owned shops alight on February 9.
International media said reports of a love affair between a Christian man and Muslim woman sparked the violence, but local media said hostilities broke out over accusations that Christians were blackmailing Muslim women to convert.