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In Egypt today, a young blogger became the first person in that country sentenced to jail for opinions expressed on the Internet. Abdel Kareem Suleiman was sentenced to four years in jail for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. Human rights groups condemned the ruling, saying it sets a chilling president.
Outside the courtroom today, there was a surprising development in another story. The Egyptian cleric at the center of Italy's CIA abduction case spoke out about the torture he allegedly suffered after being kidnapped in Milan.
NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.
PETER KENYON: Abdel Kareem Suleiman attracted international attention after he was arrested in November. Politicians and free speech advocates called on the government to release the young blogger, arguing that offering strong opinions and political views on the Internet should not be grounds for a criminal case. But an Alexandria court agreed with Egyptian prosecutors who argued that Suleiman's writings violated Egyptian laws against damaging the country's reputation and inciting hatred of Islam.
Ahmad Seif al-Islam, an attorney representing the young blogger, said before the sentenced was announced that the legal case against his client was weak, but he thinks the government is trying to make an example of Suleiman to suppress dissent on the Internet.
He recalled a similar situation involving more old-fashioned methods of communications several decades ago.
Mr. AHMAD SEIF AL-ISLAM (Director, Hisham Mubarak Law Center): (Through translator) We have the communist poet in Egypt, more than 50 years ago, who wrote a severe poem against capitalists in Egypt. And this poem was used to incriminate communism in Egypt. And I have a feeling that Kareem's case will be used to limit freedom of the use of Internet in Egypt.
KENYON: Some of Suleiman's blog opinions were decidedly outspoken. He described the companions of the prophet Muhammad as terrorists, and he compared President Mubarak to the pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt. But that last barb, at least, is hardly new.
Two years ago, businessman Muhammad Farid Hasanin got into no trouble for making essentially the same comment during his unsuccessful bid to challenge Mubarak for the presidency. In fact, as this excerpt from a 2005 interview shows, Hassanin made other charges that were arguably much worst.
Mr. MUHAMMAD FARID HASANIN (Former Egyptian Parliamentarian): (Through translator) Hosni Mubarak is at the same degree of danger to international peace at Hitler and Stalin. He acts as an insane person, as Nero who burns Rome. We want Hosni Mubarak to be the last pharaoh that rules Egypt.
KENYON: After today's court ruling, human rights groups called for Suleiman's release, saying the sentence violates an international civil rights covenant that Egypt ratified in 1982. Perhaps the most surprising development outside the Alexandria courthouse today had nothing to do with the blogger.
The Egyptian cleric Hassan Nasser, better known as Abu Omar, came forward to say he wants to return to Italy to testify in the case against the Americans who allegedly kidnapped him. An Italian judge last week issued indictments for 26 Americans, most of them CIA agents, as well as Italy's intelligence chief.
Abu Omar says he was seized in Milan and sent to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. After remaining largely quiet since his release, today he said he was risking the wrath of the Egyptian security services to demand that he be allowed to return to Italy.
Mr. ABU OMAR (Egyptian Cleric): (Through translator) I was subject to the worst kind of terror in Egyptian prisons. I know I will be arrested after giving this statement, but this is a truth that the whole world should know. I will show you some torture marks in my body.
KENYON: Abu Omar displayed marks on his wrists and ankles that he said were evidence of torture. But it's not clear if he'll ever have his day in court. None of the indicted Americans is still in Italy, and Rome has not requested their extradition. Analysts say if such a request were made, it's unlikely that the Bush administration would honor it.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.
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