Reporters Without Borders hails the release of Abdul Kareem Suleiman Amer, the blogger known as Kareem Amer. He was finally set free on the evening of 15 November, 10 days after completing a four-year jail sentence, and is now reunited with his family. He has decided for the time being to make no statement.
The blogger was again subjected to physical mistreatment at the headquarters of the internal security department in Alexandria during the 10 days he was held illegally after 5 November, the date he should have been released.
“We are deeply relieved and happy to know that Kareem’s nightmare is over and he is free at last,” Reporters Without Borders 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. We will closely monitor the behaviour of the authorities towards Kareem in the coming months and we will be ready to report any attempt to intimidate him.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We would like to thank all those who fought for his release, including his fellow Egyptian bloggers, especially those linked to the Free Kareem Coalition, Internet users the world over, human rights groups and politicians. His lawyer, Rawda Ahmed, and Gamal Eid of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information deserve special recognition for their unflagging commitment to his cause despite the extremely difficult conditions in which they had to defend him.”
Reached by telephone today, Gamal Eid told Reporters Without Borders he was delighted by Kareem Amer’s release but added that Kareem “should never have spent four years in prison just for exercising his right to free speech.”
Arrested on 6 November 2006 for criticising the government’s religious and authoritarian excesses in his blog (www.karam903.blogspot.com), Kareem Amer was sentenced on 22 February 2007 to three years in prison on a charge of inciting hatred of Islam and another year in prison on a charge of insulting the president. His blog entries also criticised the Sunni University of Al-Azhar, where he had studied law, and discrimination against women. He was previously arrested for similar reasons on 2005.
Kareem Amer was subjected to appalling conditions in detention. In his letters he described being put in solitary confinement for 10 days and “physical torture that was covered up by the prison doctor, who altered my medical file.” His request for a new trial was rejected in 2009. His request for early release, for which he qualified a year ago on completing three quarters of his jail term, was also rejected.
Countless protests were organised by the Free Kareem Coalition (http://www.freekareem.org/) and others during the past four years to press for his release. Reporters Without Borders awarded him its “Cyber-Freedom” prize in December 2007. That year, Reporters Without Borders demonstrated outside the Egyptian embassy in Paris and the Egyptian stand at the world tourism trade fair in Paris. Reporters Without Borders staged another demonstration in front of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris last year to draw the attention of the media and public to his plight.
His release gives the government an opportunity to begin anew its relationship with Egypt’s netizen community. It could start by putting an end to the constant harassment of bloggers, whether in the form of brief arrests or abusive court prosecutions.
Justice also needs to be rendered in the case of Mohammed Khaled Said, a young man who was beaten to death outside an Alexandria Internet café on 6 June after posting a video showing police officers sharing the proceeds from a drug deal.