|Egyptian authorities, who have operated under emergency laws since president Hosni Mubarak took power in 1981, are often accused of using illegal intimidation and violence [EPA]|
Egyptian security forces have reportedly beaten Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, an Egyptian blogger serving a four-year prison term for inciting unrest and antipathy to Islam.
Gamal Eid, Suleiman’s lawyer and the director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said in a statement on Wednesday that Suleiman had been beaten on Tuesday night by a “junior officer” at the State Security Intelligence (SSI) headquarters in Alexandria.
Suleiman had previously been held at the Borg al-Arab prison, where he was serving his sentence. After his release date came and went on November 5, however, he was transferred to SSI headquarters and has not been released from state custody, despite serving out the end of his sentence.
In his statement, Eid said that Suleiman’s treament is creating a “climate of hatred” against the police.
“The ministry of the interior, with all its officers and soldiers, is not more powerful than his right,” Eid said.
Advocacy groups have protested Suleiman’s continued detention.
Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on Wednesday that Suleiman “has been held illegally” past the date his sentence was supposed to have finished and must be released immediately.
“The criminal behaviour of the security forces is shocking and unacceptable,” the group said. “[Suleiman] has already suffered enough in prison. This mistreatment must be investigated and the person responsible punished”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has also called for his immediate release.
Four years plus
An organisation formed to protest Suleiman’s conviction had expected that the Alexandria native would be released on November 5, but SSI officers are apparently still holding him as they process his release.
Suleiman was reportedly the first blogger in Egypt to face trial for his online writings.
The Free Kareem Coalition, a multi-national group of activists formed to protest Suleiman’s conviction, had written in a blog post on November 4 that Suleiman would be released the next day. Esra’a Al Shafei, the director of the coalition, wrote in an email to Al Jazeera on Friday that several people were trying to get information, but no one, including Suleiman’s lawyers, knew whether he had been released.
“We are under the assumption … that he is still imprisoned, because lawyers are typically informed about the release of their clients, and in this case they have not yet been contacted about his status,” Al Shafei wrote. “The government never said anything about his release. They sentenced him to four years in prison – he served all four, it is their legal requirement to release him”.
Tarek Elfaramawi, a freelance photographer and resident of Alexandria who had been assigned to photograph Suleiman after his release, told Al Jazeera that the release had not happened.
Basem Fathy, a blogger and Cairo-based projects director for the Egyptian Democracy Academy, said political activists close to Suleiman told him that Suleiman had not been released.
A spokeswoman for the press office at the Egyptian embassy in Washington DC did not return a call inquiring about Suleiman’s status. Gamal Eid, Suleiman’s lawyer in Egypt, did not respond to a phone call.
Accused of insulting Islam and the president
Suleiman was first arrested in Alexandria on November 6, 2006. Authorities extended his detention several times and eventually filed formal charges against him and brought him to trial.
Suleiman pleaded not guilty, but in February 2007 a judge convicted him for defaming president Hosni Mubarak, inciting hatred of Islam, and inciting the overthrow of the government, among other charges. The judge handed Suleiman a four-year prison sentence.
Suleiman’s conviction sparked widespread coverage in the media and worldwide demonstrations from Sweden to the United States. The US state department publicly expressed concern about Suleiman’s conviction and gave his arrest a critical mention in its 2006 human rights report.
Fathy said he first met Suleiman when he and 14 other activists were arrested and detained in the Borg al-Arab for eight days. They had been attending a protest in Alexandria that involved the April 6 Movement, a collection of tens of thousands of young, educated Egyptians that has coalesced on Facebook around a collective disenchantment with Egypt’s economic stagnation, repressive attitude toward free speech, and corrupt government.
It was Fathy’s first time in jail, and he said Suleiman helped him adjust.
“I [was not] allowed to contact my parents or my lawyers … I [did not] have the regular rights of the prisoners,” Fathy said. “We met Kareem, and he was providing some books for us to read in the prison, he was supporting us and trying to make us calm.”
Writing under the pseudonym Kareem Amer, Suleiman expounded prolifically on his blog, addressing issues of political repression, religious extremism and women’s rights. He attended al-Azhar University in Cairo, considered the seat of orthodox Sunni Muslim theology, and enrolled in the department of sharia and legal studies before eventually being expelled.
His writings had led authorities to question him even before his eventual November 2006 detention. In October 2005, Muslims and Coptic Christians clashed in Alexandria over the sale of a DVD recording of a play called “Once I Was Blind But Now I See” that depicted a poor, young Copt who is drawn to Islamist militants who then try to kill him. Three people died and a nun was stabbed by a young Muslim man.
Suleiman wrote a blog post about the Alexandria unrest, saying “the Muslims have taken the mask off to show their true hateful face, and they have shown the world that they are at the top of their brutality, inhumanity, and thievery”.
Fathy told Al Jazeera: “Before going to the prison, I just was a little bit affected by his reputation for defaming Islam. After meeting him and reading more and thinking more, now and for the last two years, I am a very strong supporter for his freedom.
“I might disagree with his opinions, but I also disagree with the arrest for his opinions.”