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Human rights activists around the globe are expressing outrage over a four-year prison sentence given to a blogger for criticizing his government and university.
Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have condemned the sentencing of Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman. Human Rights Watch said it is the first time an Egyptian court has sentenced a blogger to prison. Reporters Without Borders called Thursday's sentence a "disgrace" and urged the United Nations not to choose Egypt as a location for the 2009 Internet Governance Forum.
"Such a choice would completely discredit the U.N. process for debating the future of the Internet," said the free press advocacy group in a statement. "It is time the international community took a stand on Egypt's repeated violations of press freedom and the rights of Internet users."
Reporters Without Borders and other groups said the sentence was meant to intimidate other Egyptian bloggers and would likely chill free speech.
Suleiman, who blogged under the pseudonym Kareem Amer, was arrested in November. Authorities accused him of spreading rumors likely to disturb the peace, inciting hatred of Islam, and insulting President Hosni Mubarak. He received three years for inciting hatred of Islam and one year for insulting Mubarak, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Suleiman, a 22-year-old former law student at Al-Azhar University, wrote that he supports human rights and opposes groups that oppress them. He called his school the "university of terrorism," according to an account on a Muslim news site based in the United States.
Bahraini blogger Esra'a Al-Shafei, who created FreeKareem.org to call for the blogger's release, was one of many readers to conclude that some of his writings were offensive -- and still supports his right to express his views.
"I cannot support his imprisonment merely because he said a few things that insult my identity," Al-Shafei wrote in a statement posted on FreeKareem. "Freedom of expression and open exchange of ideas must be respected."
Human Rights Watch said the laws that authorities accused Suleiman of violating contradict the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified 25 years ago. The agreement guarantees free expression through art and media. Egyptian laws, however, prohibit the dissemination of information, including news, which could disrupt security, spread horror, or harm the public interest. They also allow imprisonment for offending the president and for discrimination based on race, origin, or belief, if the "instigation is likely to disturb public order," according to excerpts published by Human Rights Watch.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the Eyptian government should honor its commitment to free expression and release the blogger immediately.