17 November 2010

Blogger Kareem Amer finally released

Kareem Amer, an Egyptian blogger whose case symbolised the struggle for free expression in cyberspace, has been freed after serving four years in jail on charges of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF), PEN International Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Amer, whose full name is Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, was released from prison on 15 November, Day of the Imprisoned Writer - but not after being illegally detained for 10 days beyond his sentence and beaten by officers, say the IFEX members.

"We are deeply relieved and happy to know that Kareem's nightmare is over and he is free at last," RSF said. "Nothing will be able to erase his four years of suffering as a result of a totally unjustified conviction, but at least he will no longer be the scapegoat of Egyptian government anger at criticism expressed by bloggers."

Amer was the first blogger to stand trial in Egypt for his Internet posts. His blogs regularly criticised the religious and authoritarian excesses of President Mubarak's government, and Egypt's highest religious institutions, including the Sunni university of Al-Azhar, where he studied law before being expelled.

His ordeal has highlighted the Egyptian government's attack on dissident voices on blogs and social networks, which are more complicated to control than traditional opposition media outlets.

IFEX members, as well as the Free Kareem Coalition, worked determinedly for his release, organising protests and rallies in their home countries and designating Amer one of their high priority cases. RSF singled out Amer's lawyers, Gamal Eid and Rawda Ahmed of ANHRI "for their unflagging commitment to his cause despite the extremely difficult conditions in which they had to defend him."

Amer's release comes as the Egyptian government has cracked down on the media in the run-up to the country's 28 November parliamentary elections. The editor of Egypt's independent daily "Al-Dustour", Ibrahim Eissa, was sacked last month. Other journalists have complained of government interference.

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