Egyptian blogger Abd al-Karim Suleiman – more commonly called Abdel Kareem – was detained last year for online writings about sectarian clashes in his neighborhood of Alexandria. Earlier this year, he was expelled from Al-Azhar University for his outspoken secularism. Now Kareem is being held again by the Office of the Public Prosecutor, possibly tipped off by authorities at the university. He’s being investigated for crimes that include “Spreading data and malicious rumors that disrupt public security”; “defaming the president of Egypt”; “incitement to overthrow the regime upon hatred and contempt”; and “incitement to hate ‘Islam’ and breach of the public peace standards.”
Leading Egyptian human rights advocate, Gamal Eid, has spoken out about Kareem’s detention, focusing on the University’s role as an informant: “It is regrettable and shameful for a university to punish one of its students for practicing his basic right to freedom of _expression. The university did not only dismiss him, but also did not hesitate to take up the role of an informer by filing a communiqué against him to the Public Prosecutor Office. Kareem is targeted because he expressed his own views.” And bloggers are organizing an online campaign to call attention to the detentions at FreeKareem.org.
One of the most interesting features of the FreeKareem site is a question and answer section about Muslims support for Kareem’s rights to freedom of expression – a right which Kareem has used to strongly criticize Islam. Dalia Ziada, who works with Gamal Eid at Human Rights Info, and describes herself as a devout Muslim, answers:
If Kareem criticized Islam that does not mean that he hates us personally. He only expresses his own point of view. As Muslim civilized humans all what we should do is to respond to his criticism by clarifying the falseness of his criticism from our point of view. It does not mean that we –the holders of power – should silence the minority who contradicts our beliefs. That is the Islam I always knew before some political movements such as Muslim Brotherhood Group appears to allow the shedding of the blood of Bahaists only because they have another religion and to silence some atheists like Kareem just because he has a different view. Listen up Muslim brothers and sisters, we came to life only to worship Allah and to fill universe with life, love, and prosperity. We should not waste our time in fighting with non-Muslims only because they are non-Muslims. Only Allah has the right to do this, not us.
Egypt is one of the countries singled out by our friends Reporters Without Borders in their campaign yesterday to call attention to the “black holes” of the Internet. Their campaign was online and offline and featured mobile billboards in New York City and Paris – they’re very cool, but I can’t help thinking that the timing was a bit off, as almost everyone in the US was focused on domestic politics yesterday, not on online censorship.
The campaign, though, did attract the attention of the Chinese government, which accused RSF’s reports of Internet censorship as “groundless”. The statement, from a representative of the Foreign Ministry, is interesting if only for how carefully chosen the words are: “The Chinese enjoy free access to the Internet and they can have the information they need. Currently, the information the Chinese people get is far more than before the introduction of the Internet in this country.” The second part of the statement is certainly true – the first part raises some very interesting questions about how one would define “information they need” or “free access”…
Very few people who study net censorship in China would describe Chinese access as free. They’re too busy keeping track of the ways in which Chinese authorities block internet services. Rebecca MacKinnon translates some reports from the Chinese blogosphere which point to evidence that some Chinese webmail services are blocking incoming email from GMail. This might be a form of spam filtering gone horribly awry… or rough-and-tumble competition between Chinese email providers and GMail… or government-mandated blocking of Google services. Like every other aspect of the “great firewall”, it’s very hard to know what’s actually going on with the Chinese internet, but very easy to see that it’s not nearly as free as the internet in most of the rest of the world.