An Egyptian blogger whose case epitomized the struggle for freedom of expression in cyberspace has been freed after serving four years in prison on charges of insulting Islam and defaming President Hosni Mubarak.
Human rights organizations announced Wednesday that Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, the blogger known as Kareem Amer, had been released from prison. His ordeal highlighted the Egyptian government's concern over dissident voices arising on websites and online social networks that are trickier to control than traditional opposition media outlets.
"We are deeply relieved and happy to know that Kareem's nightmare is over and he is free at last," the international advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "Nothing will be able to erase his four years of suffering as a result of a totally unjustified conviction, but at least he will no longer be the scapegoat of Egyptian government anger at criticism expressed by bloggers.
"We will closely monitor the behavior of the authorities towards Kareem in the coming months and we will be ready to report any attempt to intimidate him."
Suleiman's health is "bad but he is safe now," Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which represented the blogger in court, told Reuters news agency. "He was detained for 11 days beyond his court sentence and beaten by officers who did not give any reasons."
Suleiman is believed to be the first blogger in Egypt convicted for his harshly critical posts and articles online.
The website Free Kareem said he was released Monday night. Suleiman, a former law student at Al Azhar, the Cairo-based leading university of Sunni Muslim thought, was accused of posting blogs that insulted Mubarak and for inciting hatred of Islam. Suleiman had long been critical of what he saw as religious fanaticism and the excess power of Islam and the state on the lives of Egyptians.
In one of his posts following a 2005 Muslim attack on a Coptic Christian Church, he wrote: "Muslims revealed their true ugly face and appeared to all the world that they are full of brutality, barbarism and inhumanity."
Before his imprisonment, Suleiman was expelled by Al Azhar after he described the institution as the "university of terrorism." His release comes as the Egyptian government has cracked down on the media in the days leading to the country's Nov. 28 parliamentary elections.