Egyptian Blogger Arrested for Criticizing Islamic Clerics

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Watchdog groups are pressing for the release of an Egyptian blogger, arrested last month for posting articles critical of Islam on his Web log (blog).

They say Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman, 22, is a victim of Egyptian attempts to limit freedom of expression on the Internet.

Suleiman, known by his Internet pseudonym Kareem Amer, was expelled from the Al-Azhar University earlier this year because he wrote critically about the role of religion in Egypt, the Middle East Media Research Institute reported on Thursday.

(Al-Azhar is the regarded as the highest Sunni Islamic learning institution in the region. The grand imam of al-Azhar mosque, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, is one of the most senior Muslim clerics in Egypt.)

Suleiman also was arrested last year when he condemned violent Muslim reaction to a Coptic Christian play, which some Muslims considered offensive to Islam.

The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and the Egyptian Observatory for Justice and Law are campaigning for Sulieman's release. The groups say he's been imprisoned on "false charges."

"The real reason for his imprisonment is that he expressed his anti-governmental and anti-Islamic views in his own online articles," the groups said.

According to the groups, which are providing legal representation for Suleiman, he was supposed to be questioned before a judge on Thursday in the presence of his lawyers, but police misinformed the lawyers about where the interrogation would be held and took Suleiman to a different court, where he was given another 15 days' detention.

A petition calling for Suleiman's release has been posted on the HAMSA (Hands Across the Middle East) website. HAMSA is an American Muslim organization that promotes civil rights in the Middle East.

HAMSA Director Jesse Sage said more than 1,500 people have sent emails to the Egyptian government and U.S. State Department demanding Suleiman's release.

"This is the first time that someone [in Egypt] was arrested for what he wrote on a blog," said Sage by telephone. Other bloggers have been arrested, but usually for participating in street demonstrations, he said.

In the last article posted before his arrest, Suleiman blasted clerics at Al-Azhar University and predicted he would be arrested for it.

"[To] Al-Azhar University, to the professors and sheikhs at Al-Azhar who stood and stand against anyone who thinks freely, I say: You will end up in the dustbin of history. Then you will find no one to cry for you," Suleiman wrote according to a translation provided by MEMRI on Thursday.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Egypt is among the 13 countries known for violating freedom of expression on the Internet.

The Washington-based human rights advocacy group Freedom House said that the number of Egyptians with Internet access has more than quadrupled in the last five years but stands at less than six percent of the population.

"The Egyptian government does not engage in widespread online censorship, and online writers regularly criticize the government and launch concerted campaigns for political change," Freedom House said on its website.

Nevertheless, it said that, "bloggers were arrested, detained without charge, and harassed by state security agents."

Freedom House mentions Suleiman's arrest. It also mentions the arrest of online editor Ahmad Abd-Allah, whose papers, books and hard drives were confiscated. According to Abd-Allah, during his interrogation he was pressured to close his website. But later he was released without charges on condition that he maintain contact with state security.

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