UN experts: Egyptian blogger “arbitrarily detained”

A new report issued by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that imprisoned Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer has been detained arbitrarily by the Egyptian government for his online criticism of the Egyptian authorities and Islam. Amer’s detainment constitutes a violation of international human rights law, the report argues.
FREE KAREEM poster. Kareem Amer was the first cyber-dissident sentenced to jail in Egypt.

BEIRUT, March 27, 2009 (MENASSAT) – The Geneva-based United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) released a report this week (March 24) that said that the detainment of Egyptian blogger Kaereem Amer is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Article 19 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

WGAD concluded in its report that Amer had been “condemned” for exercising his right to freedom of expression and called on the Egyptian authorities to “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation to bring into conformity with the provisions and principles enshrined” in articles 9, 10, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights groups, including London-based Amnesty International and Article 19 applauded WGAD’s remarks. Article 19 referred to the report as a “timely reminder” to the Egyptian authorities that imprisonment of dissident voices “cannot be tolerated.”

Article 19 urged the immediate release of Amer from prison and called on the Egyptian authorities to abolish national legislations that do not conform with international standards on freedom of expression.

Amer's case

A former student at Al-Azhar University in Alexandria, Amer was arrested in November 2006 and subsequently sentenced to a four year long jail term for his alleged tarnishing writings on Islam and the Egyptian President on his Internet blog.

He’s currently serving his sentence at Borg Al-Arab prison outside Alexandria.

In his writings, Kareem had staunchly criticized the teaching methods at his university, referring to the school as the university of “terrorism” and saying that his conservative professors taught that freethinkers “end up in the dustbin of history.”

Amer's 2007 conviction marked the first time Egypt had sentenced a cyber-dissident to prison, and his jailing sparked an outcry among human rights activists - attracting much unwanted media attention to the Egyptian authorities.

Free Kareem

The online campaigners “Free Kareem Coalition” have up to date organized public demonstrations in support of Amer in several world capitals and initiated letter writing campaigns, among other solidarity actions.

Most recently, they launched a channel on the micro-blogging site Twitter where supporters of Amer can receive the latest updates on the case and the blogger’s condition.

Egyptian blogger Wa7damasrya, “Egyptian Girl”, has kept in close contact with Amer throughout his detainment and regularly receives letters from him. In the most recent letter she received from Amer a few months ago, the blogger said he was “doing “fine”.

Egyptian human rights organizations have, however, previously claimed that Amer was beaten up and tortured in his prison cell.

In November 2007, Amer's lawyers from the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) filed a complaint with the General Prosecutor claiming that their client had been subjected to torture and abuse by a fellow inmate and a prison guard.

They said Amer had contacted them claiming he had been assaulted and then transferred to solitary confinement where he was placed in shackles and repeatedly beaten for two days.

The alleged battery resulted in Amer suffering a broken tooth.

There are no indications that his four year jail sentence will be commuted any time soon.