JOHN YDSTIE, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to Egypt tomorrow, where she'll meet with President Hosni Mubarak. Free speech activists in the U.S. are hoping she'll speak to him about a jailed Egyptian blogger. One month ago, a 22-year-old law student was sentenced to four years in prison for what he wrote on his personal Web site.
As our tech contributor Xeni Jardin reports, his case has put a spotlight on the growing community of bloggers in Egypt. And this warning: this report contains some graphic audio, which some listeners may find disturbing.
XENI JARDIN: His name is Abdul Kareem Suleiman Amer. To give you an idea of what he did to get arrested, this is a translation of his final blog post last October.
Unidentified Man: (Reading) "The mere existence of legal provisions that criminalize freedom of thought and threaten with imprisonment anyone who criticizes religion in any way is a grave defect in the law."
JARDIN: It's ironic, then, that two days after this he was interrogated by Egyptian police. Later, he was convicted of violating the same legal provisions he criticized on his personal blog.
Nabil Fahmy is the Egyptian ambassador the United States.
Ambassador NABIL FAHMY (Egyptian Ambassador to the United States): The genesis of it, frankly, is Mr. Suleiman has been found guilty and he admitted to having basically insulted religion. And that, frankly, is illegal in Egypt.
JARDIN: Kareem Amer, as he's known in his blog, was convicted of contempt of religion, specifically Islam, and defaming Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Though this is the first time a blogger in Egypt has been convicted by a court for blogging, free speech and political activists are often arrested and detained.
Mr. ALAA ABDEL FATTAH (Egyptian Activist and Blogger): So it's very common whenever there is a sweep of arrests that involves activists that you find bloggers getting arrested.
JARDIN: Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah spent a month and a half in jail last year for protesting injustice in Egypt's legal system. And just last week, Egyptian authorities targeted him again. Authorities produced a list of opposition activists that include him and other bloggers. At a protest soon after, police arrested and jailed 20 people for two days, including some of the names on that list.
Mr. FATTAH: This shows the power - the key role that bloggers play in this movement and in this kind of activity in Egypt.
JARDIN: One of the other bloggers targeted for spreading what the government called false news posted this video of alleged torture and rape in an Egyptian prison.
(Soundbite of video clip)
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
JARDIN: The visuals in this video are as horrific as the sound, and too graphic to be described in detail here.
It's videos like this and other posts documenting human rights abuses that have made Egyptian bloggers targets of the government. The blogger who posted a copy of that torture video also has a warrant out for his arrest and claims he's being harassed by police.
Blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah says he wasn't tortured during his time in jail, but knows others who have been. And he believes a similar fate and may await Kareem Amer, the blogger who's just begun his four-year sentence.
Mr. LAWRENCE WRIGHT (Author, "The Looming Tower"): There are thousands of people - maybe tens of thousands of people that have been picked up, thrown into administrative detention. Most of them are Islamist.
JARDIN: Lawrence Wright documented the genesis of al-Qaida in his book, "The Looming Tower," and he says torture is rampant in Egypt's jails.
Mr. WRIGHT: I think, along with many other human rights workers, that the particular appetite for carnage that's so characteristic of al-Qaida can be attributed to the brutality of those Egyptian prisons.
And it's paradoxical, isn't it, that the people that are most subjected to this kind of treatment are the Islamists and a reformist. Two people who have nothing else in common.
Ambassador FAHMY: Regrettably, we have had some cases of the human rights violations. We admit to that, but we also prosecute those who violate it. This is not a government policy to accept this.
JARDIN: Ambassador Fahmy believes a lot of progress has been made on social and political reforms. But according to Human Rights Watch, some of the officers accused of torture have not been prosecuted. Even Fahmy admits that how they go forward in dealing with bloggers still remains a question mark.
Mr. FAHMY: The blogger experience is new for us in Egypt, although it's up from a couple of hundred to well over 4,000 now, and society will have to get used to all this.
JARDIN: Constantino Diaz-Duran is a coordinator with freekareem.org here in America. They've been campaigning on Kareem's behalf, including organizing protests outside of Egyptian embassies around the world. But Diaz-Duran feels they're providing another important service to Kareem.
Mr. CONSTANTINO DIAZ-DURAN (Coordinator, freekareem.org): Prisoners in Egypt depend on their family for basic necessities such as clothing, even decent food and medical care. Kareem has been disowned by his family.
JARDIN: in fact, Kareem's father has said that he would like to see Islamic Sharia Law applied. This would give Kareem three days to repent or face execution. As dire as that sounds, this may be a last option. On Monday, an Egyptian court rejected an appeal for Kareem's release, a move the U.S. State department has condemned.
For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.