Bloggers in Egypt and Syria Face Prison Terms
There’s no question that the internet and social media played a key role in keeping the world informed about the Arab Spring protests that led to the overthrow of autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Tunisia, a former dissident and human rights activist, Moncef Marzouki, has been elected president; Marouzi had been jailed in 1994 when he ran for president against now-ousted dictator President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
In Egypt, a second round of elections is being held amid criticism about the efforts of the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to hold onto power. The sentencing of a blogger raises further questions about the SCAF: Blogger Maikel Nabil has been sentenced to two years in prison and fined 200 pounds ($33) for criticizing the military on his blog. In April, he had been sentenced to three years in prison after publishing a blog entry entitled “The people and the army were never hand in hand,” Al Jazeera reports. He also accused the army of using the famed Egyptian Museum to torture prisoners and forcing detained women protesters to undergo virginity tests. The military have accused Nabil of “insulting the military” and of publishing false information.
Nabil is the first blogger to be tried in a military court in Egypt and has been on a hunger strike since August, drinking juice and milk. But following his sentencing, he will only be drinking water, his brother Mark told the AFP news agency.
Another prominent Egyptian activist and blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, has also been detained; he is accused of fomenting unrest among the military and Christians on October 9. El Fattah had said that the military were responsible for the killings that resulted. His sister, activist Mona Seif, accuses the military of unjustly blaming him for the violence in October.
Jillian C York posted this photo of El Fattah in Budapest, where he was attending an Arabloggers conference in 2008. Beside him are two other bloggers, Ali Abdulemam of Bahrain who was “sentenced in absentia by the Bahraini authorities, and [is] currently in hiding,” and Razan Ghazzawi, a US-born Syrian blogger who was arrested on December 4 on the border with Jordan, while en route to attend a conference on freedom of the press. On Monday, Ghazzawi was charged with seeking to incite sectarian strife as well as “spreading false information and weakening national sentiment.” According to the Guardian, rights activists say that the latter charge is often “levelled against those who challenge the regime.” Ghazzawi could be sentenced with up to 15 years in prison.
Ghazzawi has denied all the charges, says the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in the Arab World, where she works. The Centre also issued this statement:
“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of our colleague Razan Ghazzawi as well as an end to her trial and the annulment of the completely baseless charges against her.”
The uprising in Syria has been going on for nine months. The death toll is now over 5,000; on Tuesday, Syrian forces fired on a funeral procession in the northern city of Idlib. Two people were killed, raising the death toll to 28 on that day. The outbreak of violence is, says the Guardian, a further sign that what had been a peaceful uprising is growing into a “full insurgency” in which army defectors are fighting back against the Syrian army. However, Syrian “authorities have also used the attacks by defectors to support their official narrative,” that the uprising is the work of foreign conspirators and militants.
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Image from RamyRaoof