Congressmen call on Mubarak to release imprisoned blogger; protect freedom of expression
By Alexandra Sandels
First Published 8/15/2007
WASHINGTON: In a bid to pressure the Egyptian government to enhance freedom of expression and religion, US Congressmen Trent Franks and Emanuel Cleaver issued an open letter to President Hosni Mubarak urging him to release imprisoned Alexandrian student blogger Kareem Amer.
“I am very concerned about Kareem and the example Egypt is setting in the region by suppressing peaceful discussion of human rights concerns. It is time for President Mubarak to back up his stated support for democracy with action by making the laws consistent with Egypt’s international human rights commitments, pardoning those who have been unjustly convicted, and ensuring that government officials and society respect these commitments,” Franks stated in a recent press release.
A former student at Al-Azhar University, 22-year-old Amer was sentenced in January of this year to four years in prison for insulting Islam and President Mubarak on his internet blog. The case marks the first time Egypt sentences a blogger for ‘tarnishing’ online writings.
“The ability to discuss and even criticize one’s religious beliefs is an important aspect of freedom of religion and expression. If Egypt is to be a model of democracy in the Middle East, it must first be a country where these rights, which are fundamental in any democracy, are flourishing,” Franks and Cleaver said in the letter.
"Sentencing a young student to four years in jail simply for expressing his thoughts on a weblog was a miscarriage of justice. Letters from prominent leaders to President Mubarak ensure that he is aware of the mistake. These letters also encourage him to correct the mistake and pardon Kareem,” Jesse Sage of Hamsa, an international civil rights initiative of the American Islamic Congress, told Daily News Egypt.
As co-chairs of the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom (TIRF), Franks and Cleaver also stressed the need for the Egyptian authorities to investigate the alleged rise of Islamic extremism at Al-Azhar University and attacks on Coptic Christian communities in Egypt; topics Amer addressed on his blog.
Furthermore, following several security crackdowns on outspoken Egyptian bloggers in the past year, Franks and Cleaver urged Mubarak to protect freedom of expression for all Egyptian bloggers and "ensure Egypt’s vibrant blogging community continues to thrive without persecution."
The alleged deteriorating press environment in Egypt has caught the attention of rights groups around the world.
In early May, New York-based press freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), listed Egypt one of the “10 worst backsliders of press freedom in the world,” emphasizing repeated assaults on reporters by government agents during demonstrations, the imprisonment of Kareem Amer, and numerous abductions and assaults on journalists.
In December 2006, another press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) added Egypt to its list of “the world’s 13 worst internet enemies” citing growing government censorship of internet sites and repeated intimidation and arrests of internet bloggers.
Franks and Cleaver’s letter to Mubarak is not the US Congress' first attempt to take action in the case.
Earlier this year, Franks spoke to the Egyptian Ambassador in Washington Nabil Fahmy, and urged him to "look into the case of Amer."
Members of the US Congress also submitted a bipartisan letter to the ambassador in January, demanding the release of Amer.
On March 12, Amer lost his court appeal and began his prison term.
But his supporters still pin hopes on foreign governments and rights groups to take continued action in the case.
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