In March 2006 the conservative administration of Egypt’s prime Islamic high-learning institution, Al-Azhar University, learned that one of their students was an online blogger, and they didn’t like what he was blogging.
Complaining about its "infiltration of public life and its control of people’s behavior and its dictation of how to lead their everyday life," 22 year old law faculty student Abdel Karim Nabil (blogname Kareem Amer) denounced Al Azhar as a ‘university of terrorism’ and accused it of promoting extreme ideas and suppressing free thought. He warned Al Azhar scholars and professors that they would end up in "the garbage of history."
An outraged disciplinary board at al-Azhar found him guilty of blaspheming Islam and threw him out of the university, urging prosecuters to put him on trial. Kareem’s days were numbered.
For Kareem, who describes himself as a down-to-earth Law student who "looks forward to opening his own human rights activists Law firm with the goal of defending the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all form of discrimination and to stop violent crimes, had already made the acquaintance of the Egyptian police in October the previous year. Then, he had been arrested for his report on the riots caused by rumors that a video of a supposedly anti-Islamic play was being screened in a Coptic church in the area of Alexandria where he lives.
It was the comments he wrote about the "brutality, inhumanity, and thievery" of some of his fellow Muslims, "the thugs that assaulted our Coptic brothers, burned their homes, stole their properties, and tried to assault their religious men and destroy their churches," that brought plain clothes security agents to his door. Karem was taken away and held for 12 days without charge.
On his release brave Kareem blogged:
I wasn’t jailed, for my mind was and still is free from all physical and psychological restraints that couldn’t cause harm to it, and if my body was jailed then there is nothing new about it, it only means that I was moved from a big jail to a small disciplanary cell because I did not follow the rules that the seventy million Egyptians are forced to abide by, and I broke the widespread traditions in the Great Jail of the Arab Republic of Egypt!"
"It is very terrible that freedom would be taken from a human being because of an opinion or belief of his, but… it is very beautiful that his detention would be an encouragement for him to stick by his principles, and a reason for him to defy and hold on to what he thinks is right, even if he violates the traditions and beliefs of the majority of the people within the boundaries of his society …"
But then in November 2006 Kareem was arrested again and held in the "disciplinary cell" at a detention center in Alexandria. The public prosecutor initially ordered him to be detained for four days, but a series of extensions to allow further time for investigation kept him in custody (in solitary confinement) for two months before being charged with ‘spreading information disruptive of public order’, ‘incitement to hate Islam and insulting Islam and defaming the president of the republic, President Hosni Mubarak, whom he had likened to the dictatorial pharaohs rulers of ancient Egypt.
At his trial on February 22 2007 he was found guilty of all charges in a five minute hearing and sentenced to four years in prison.
Amnesty International said the ruling was "yet another slap in the face of freedom for expression in Egypt", and Human Rights Watch condemned the trial, saying that the charges Suleiman was convicted for "contradict guarantees of free expression under international law. The Egyptian government should abide by its commitments to uphold free expression and release Suleiman without delay."
And so say all of us! And yet so far no official comment has been made by the Egyptian government, or any official criticism of the verdict by leaders of the so-called ‘free’ world. Kareem was speaking out against political repression, religious extremism, and discrimination against women. If there were any justice in the world, the United Nations would get its act together and demand the release of this young man who has had the courage to take a stand for freedom of speech and against ignorance and injustice.
His imprisonment is a crime, and his release should be demanded by all who support human rights.
You can sign a petition at: http://www.petitiononline.com/
FREE KAREEM AMER!
MICHAEL DICKINSON lives in Istanbul . He can be contacted through his Saatchi Gallery