Egyptian Blogger: Free After 4 Years in Jail

History’s longest imprisoned blogger, Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, was freed Wednesday evening after spending four years and ten days in Alexandria's Borg al-Arab jail.

Suleiman was expected to be released on 5 November. The ten additional days he spent in jail sparked protests by both Egyptian and International organizations. Suleiman’s lawyer Gamal Eid, from the Arabic Network for Human Rights (ANHR), told Al-Masry Al-Youm authorities did not give a reason for the delay.

“ANHR filed a complaint to the general prosecutor to demand the opening of an investigation,” said Eid.

Suleiman, who blogs under the name of Kareem Amer, was sentenced in February 2007 to three years imprisonment for insulting Islam and inciting sedition. He also received a one-year sentence for insulting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The content of his blog was also openly critical of the Egyptian’s government treatment of the Coptic minority community and society's conduct towards women.

A former law student at the Damanhour campus at Al-Azhar, Suleiman was expelled from the university in early 2006 after criticizing some of the institution’s conservative professors.

"The professors and sheikhs at al-Azhar who stand against anyone who thinks freely" would "end up in the dustbin of history," he wrote in his blog. Suleiman also referred to the institution as “the university of terrorism” and a facility that stifles free thought.

Al-Azhar’s administration consequently filed a communiqué to the Public Prosecutor against their former student, accusing him of spreading rumours that endanger public security and defame President Mubarak.

“The investigation started in November 2006," Eid explained. "In February 2007 he was sentenced to four years in jail and the appeal that took place in March 2007 confirmed this verdict.”

The lawyer said he has not been permitted to visit Suleiman in jail since March 2009. “The security officers at the prison would laugh at me, as a representative of a Human Rights Organization, and would deny me the right to visit him,” Eid added. “These people–the security–believe that they are above the law.”

According to Eid, the Alexandria prison is “one of the worst jails in Egypt.” Eid claims to have visited most of the Egypt's detention centers.

“The Borg al-Arab jail is located 40km from Alexandria in the middle of the desert, and atrocities are commonplace there because there is no control over the inmates and the guards whatsoever,” said Eid, who added that Suleiman was repeatedly beaten during his imprisonment.

Following the blogger’s arrest, many web-based support groups formed to denounce this alleged blatant abuse against freedom of expression. Eid explains that some of these groups delivered material and psychological support to Kareem, while others collected funds that never reached him.

“We are well aware of which groups actually supported him," Suleiman's lawyer said, "and which ones made money at his expense.”

After 1470 days in prison, Suleiman is not willing to go public statement with his experiences quite yet. “I am in constant contact with him," said Eid. "He is sick, and he told me that won’t be under the spotlight for about a week.”

Although Suleiman’s future is still uncertain, Eid confirmed that he will continue blogging.

Suleiman is one of the many victims of the “social media” phenomenon, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres, an international watchdog organization. In their 2009 report, they revealed 151 people worldwide jailed because of the content of their blogs, a nearly three-fold increase from 2008.

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