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Middle East
Egyptian blogger sentenced to jail
Egyptian imam allegedly kidnapped by CIA shows up at trial to speak out.
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2007 16:06 GMT

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman has been detained since November [AP]

An Alexandria court has convicted an Egyptian blogger for insulting both Islam and the Egyptian president, sentencing him to four years in jail over his writings on the internet.

 

During the trial, an Egyptian imam allegedly kidnapped by

Known as Abu Omar, the former Milan-based imam on Thursday told reporters that he was tortured in an Egyptian prison and that he wants to return to Italy.

 

He showed the cameras scars he said were fr

Al Jazeera's correspondent, Amr El-Khaky reported: "Abu Omar also pleaded to both the Egyptian and American presidents to release all political prisoners", including US prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Later on Thursday, Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman, the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt for his internet writings, was sentenced to four years in jail.

Convicted blogger

Suleiman, a 22-year-old former law student, has been in custody since November over eight articles he had written under the name "Kareem Amer" on his blog since 2004.

"It's a dangerous precedent because it will impact the only free space available now, which is the Internet"

Sandmonkey, Egyptian blogger

Rights groups and opposition bloggers have watched Suleiman's case closely, and worried the conviction could set a legal precedent limiting internet freedom in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country.

 

A blogger attending the trial who goes by the name "Sandmonkey" said: "It's a dangerous precedent because it will impact the only free space available now, which is the internet. The charges were undefined and vague."

 

Human Rights Watch condemned the trial, saying that the charges Suleiman was convicted for "contradict guarantees of free expression under international law".

 

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: "The Egyptian government should abide by its commitments to uphold free expression and release Suleiman without delay."

 

Criticism or insult?

 

Suleiman, a Muslim and a liberal, has not denied writing the articles, but said they merely represented his own views.

 

One of his articles said that al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the most prominent seats of Sunni Muslim learning, was promoting extreme ideas. Another article, headlined "The Naked Truth of Islam as I Saw it", accused Muslims of savagery during clashes between Muslims and Christians in Alexandria in 2005.

 

Suleiman has also denounced Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, likening him to the dictatorial pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt.

 

Abu Omar says he expects to be arrested again
for speaking to reporters [EPA]
 
Though legally unrelated, both Suleiman and Abu Omar's cases highlight the threat to freedom of expression in Egypt.

 

Abu Omar stated fears that Egyptian security services would arrest him for speaking out, saying at the court in Alexandria: "I could be arrested the moment I leave here.

 

"I don't want trouble with anyone any more. My body cannot bear any more prison and torture."

 

Torture alleged

 

His torture allegations could fuel the controversy over the first criminal case involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme, in which the US authorities secretly transferred "terror" suspects for interrogation to third countries where critics say they faced torture.

 

Italian prosecutors say Abu Omar was kidnapped from the streets of Milan in February 2003 by CIA agents with help from Italian agents.

 

Last week, Italy indicted 25 American CIA agents and a US air force lieutenant colonel, along with five Italian agents, for the alleged kidnapping.

 

After his abduction, Abu Omar was allegedly taken to Aviano air base near Venice, Ramstein air base in southern Germany, and then to Egypt for interrogation.

 

He was held for four years, until he was freed by an Egyptian court that ruled his detention was "unfounded".

 

In Alexandria on Thursday, Abu Omar said he was innocent and wanted to return to Italy, where he was granted political asylum in 2001.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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